Resource Recovery

Do you know where your garbage eventually ends up after you throw it out? If you are like most people, once your hauler takes away your trash, it becomes "out of site and out of mind"! You may be interested to know that in Sherburne County, a lot of effort goes into the management of the trash that you simply discard everyday!

Great River Energy's Elk River Resource Processing Plant

Elk River Resource Recovery (ERRPP), located in Elk River, converts trash into a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) that is used to generated electricity at Great River Energy's (GRE) generating plant, also located in Elk River. Converting waste into electricity has and continues to be the best method of managing garbage in Sherburne County. GRE produces enough electricity to provide for about 40,000 homes.

Photo of Elk River Resource Processing Plant
Photo of Resource Energy Plant

Citizens may take municipal solid waste to the ERRPP which is open to the public.

This facility is one part of a resource recovery operation which processes municipal solid waste into fuel and salvages recyclable materials. The net result is that energy is produced from a source that would otherwise be discarded (MSW), and the volume of waste ultimately requiring disposal is dramatically reduced.


Waste is first dumped onto a tip floor. It is then sent through a complex mechanized sorting process where recyclables and non-combustibles are "pulled out." The remaining waste or RDF is loaded into trailers and sent to Great River Energy (GRE) located in Elk River. Approximately 85% of the waste by weight or 90% by volume is processed into RDF. The remaining waste or noncombustible materials are sent to the Elk River Landfill, where it too eventually is recovered as a renewable resource.

Resource Recovery at the Elk River Landfill

A joint venture between the Elk River Landfill (Waste Management) and the Elk River Municipal Utilities has resulted in a (landfill) gas to electric plant which currently supplies the energy needs for about 1,600 homes in the City of Elk River. The electric plant is a result of more than four years of planning, kick-started by Sherburne County Staff as a means to utilize methane as a renewable resource.

Methane to Electricity

Methane is a by-product of decay, which begins accumulating in large amounts after a couple of years. Once a landfill cell is capped, the gas needs to be flared off (openly burned) or it can be collected, pressurized, filtered, and burned for energy.

The Methane-to-Electricity Facility is a 5,100 square foot, state-of-the-art power plant that contains four 800-kilowatt Caterpillar engine-generators with the ability to generate approximately 20 million kilowatt-hours per year.

Gas Collection

Gases are collected from more than thirty wells placed in cells that have final cover. This gas is a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, and other contaminants. It needs to be compressed (to remove moisture), filtered, and separated before it is sent to the generators as fuel. At present production levels, the existing, capped, landfill cells will last an estimated 35 years. As other cells are filled and capped, they will be able to be added to the network.

Electricity Management

The Elk River Municipal Utilities manages the product (electricity) while Waste Management controls the operation and maintenance of the facility.

The Methane-to-Energy Facility includes a 720 square foot Environmental Learning Center. This classroom is used for meetings, school groups, and tours of both the plant and the Elk River Landfill.

Pope Douglas Waste to Energy Facility

The Pope Douglas waste to energy facility converts trash to energy by burning it in one of three incinerators and generating steam from the heat. It operates 24 hours a day 365 day a year. 80 % of the trash that enters the facility is sorted by the material recycling facility. The trash enters by conveyer belt or by truck. The trash is then picked up by a grapple and put into the incinerator. The incinerator is gravity fed and doesn’t need extra fuel to burn. After the garbage is burned, all that is left is ash which is then dumped into a water bin to contain the ash and dust. This entire process reduces the volume of the trash by 90%. The wet ash is stored in a bin and then hauled to an ash landfill which is monitored for environmental impacts.

The Growing Waste Stream

Sherburne County continues to experience rapid growth. With that growth, comes the challenges of managing a growing waste stream. The technology of burning garbage and recovering the energy is a proven, reliable means of waste management. Waste has proven to be a good renewable fuel, and as the value of energy continues to increase, so will the value of Waste-To-Energy facilities.

However, there is a limit to the capacity within our system. To best manage our waste stream, we must all do our part towards: waste reduction efforts, proper household hazardous waste material management, and recycling.

If you have any questions regarding the county's efforts towards waste management, please contact our office.