Hennepin County will charge trash haulers more next year to dispose of waste at county facilities, including its controversial garbage incinerator on the edge of downtown Minneapolis.

The hike will likely lead to higher costs for residents, although how much of an increase will depend on the trash hauler. The County Board recently agreed to raise "tipping fees" charged to garbage haulers by $5 per ton in 2024 and by another $3 per ton in 2025.

The county currently charges $69 per ton to process waste collected from communities and delivered to the Brooklyn Park Transfer Station and the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC). Garbage brought to the Brooklyn Park site is trucked to landfills or burned at the HERC, which also accepts waste directly from haulers for incineration.

The county contracts with about 60 trash haulers and several Hennepin County cities like Minneapolis, Richfield and Brooklyn Park. County staffers say it is more efficient to load garbage from haulers onto bigger trucks at the transfer station before shipping it to outstate landfills.

Next year, the county expects to earn $33 million from tipping fees from trash haulers, which will pay for growing operational and capital expenses in the solid waste disposal system.

In Minneapolis, where residents pay for trash collection in their monthly utility bills, public works officials said trash collection costs were expected to rise an unspecified amount due to disposal costs, wages, fuel and other expenses.

Nearly all the garbage from Minneapolis that is not recycled is delivered to the HERC, where it is incinerated. The trash burner opened in 1989 and is the only active solid waste disposal site in Hennepin County.

In October, the County Board directed staff to come up with a plan by early next year to close the HERC between 2028 and 2040. Environmental and social justice advocates have been pushing for decades to close the incinerator, saying it has negative health effects on the county's most at-risk populations.

Activists were upset the commissioners did not approve a closure plan with a shorter timeline; they want the incinerator closed immediately. Commissioners largely agreed with that desire, but noted that county residents need to significantly reduce the garbage they create.

A recent 55-page report about the HERC says the opposite is happening. Hennepin County's trash is expected to grow to 3.9 million tons a year by 2042, a roughly 18% increase from 2021. About half the waste created by residents is recycled and the rest is burned or sent to landfills.

County staff say the best way to deal with that garbage is to burn it because it will have a worse environmental impact if it is trucked to a landfill. They say air pollutants generated from incineration are well below environmental limits.

The recent board action hiking trash disposal fees noted the county's current goal is for the HERC to operate at its full capacity of 365,000 tons annually. Earlier this year, the Minnesota Legislature passed a green energy plan that in 2040 will no longer classify garbage incineration as a renewable energy.