Astonishing Information About Minnesotans and Recycling

If I had to guess then I would think Minnesota would be in the upper tier of doing a good job at recycling.  When I think about recycling in other states it seems like we do a better job. Maybe there’s a study out there I am not aware of and we’re really at the bottom of the tier, I guess I really don’t know. But what I found out when looking at some information recently is that we as a state could do much better when it comes to recycling.

  • • 12,000 tons of aluminum beverage cans were thrown away in Minnesota in 2012, which equals approximately 3.6 million aluminum cans per day.
  • • 21,000 tons of plastic bottles were thrown away in 2012.
  • • About 37,000 jobs in Minnesota are directly or indirectly supported by the recycling industry.

I know it isn’t fun to rinse cans or bottles and get them to the end of a driveway but in doing so you are helping create jobs in Minnesota and preventing landfills from overflowing.  I know I have a grudge on my shoulder now that our recycling center in town can no longer accept any plastic lids from my Diet Coke bottles.  I was in the habit of squishing all of the air out of them and then putting the lid back on them so the bottles would stay compacted. Now I have to throw the lids in the garbage and it pains me that other plastics now have to be thrown in the garbage as well. If they aren’t number 1 or number 2 plastics we can’t recycle them now which is a huge pain and a waste of plastic. Hopefully this will change soon since I’m not willing to save them and transport them to Duluth on my own.

If you have the ability to reduce, reuse, recycle or compost more then please do. I know other states and Minnesotans can do much better.

Here’s some more information about garbage in Minnesota…

Minnesota garbage study offers ‘wake up call,’ pollution control agency head says

Environment Elizabeth Dunbar · ST. PAUL, Minn. ·

Food waste and other organic material made up nearly a third of what Minnesotans sent to landfills in 2012, according to a new study state officials released Monday.

The Waste Composition Report, released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, found that organics accounted for 31 percent of the waste stream; 25 percent of the waste stream was paper and 18 percent was plastic. A category called “other wastes,” which includes things like furniture, appliances and carpet, also accounted for 18 percent, and metal, glass and electronics were in the single digits.

The last time the MPCA conducted such a study was in 2000. Since then, plastic has made up a bigger part of the waste stream, but the percentage of paper being thrown away has decreased, likely because there are fewer newspapers, the study concluded.

Still, Minnesotans are throwing away about a million tons of recyclable materials in a year that are worth about $217 million, the report said.

“In a perfect world, if you could capture that million tons and capture that organics, there’s really not much left after that, so it’s a dramatic target there,” said Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development coordinator for the MPCA. “Once it goes into the garbage or goes into the landfill, that material is not available for somebody to create economic activity with. So essentially you’re throwing away jobs.”

MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine called the report a “wake-up call.”

Recycling rates have been relatively flat in recent years, leading some to suggest Minnesota adopt a bottle and can deposit law to encourage people to recycle. A cost-benefit analysis is under way to help Minnesota lawmakers decide whether to pursue legislation next year.

Officials said the study also shows more organics collection for composting is needed to address the large amount of food waste going to landfills.

To conduct the study, MPCA contractors sampled and sorted trash at six different trash facilities around the state: Lyon County Regional Landfill, Hubbard County South Transfer Station, Western Lake Superior Sanitary District Transfer Station, Elk River Resource Recovery Facility, Pine Bend Landfill (Republic/Allied) and St. Paul Como Transfer Station (Advanced Disposal).


Demographics of garbage

Digging through garbage may not be your idea of fun, but for waste reduction experts at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, studying garbage offers a wealth of information.

Are harmful materials going into the trash, like CFLs? How much of the waste we throw away could we recycle? How much could we compost?

Recently, the MPCA commissioned a statewide study of what we are tossing into our garbage cans. The group studied garbage from six facilities throughout the state and separated it into nine primary categories.

Results of study

The study found that Minnesota waste has changed over the last 13 years, since the last study in 2000.

Paper, plastics, and organics are still the top three components of our garbage, but the proportions have changed—plastic is up, food is up, but paper is down.


What does this mean for managing waste in Minnesota? Nearly 3 million tons of solid waste will be disposed of in Minnesota this year. This study will help the MPCA and local governments plan their efforts to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills through increased recycling, composting, and waste prevention.

Local school district reduces waste

A recycling and composting program in Minnesota’s Independent School District (ISD) 191 is demonstrating how much more schools could be doing to divert trash from the waste stream. Read more about ISD 191’s recycling and composting effort.

We need to recycle more, compost more

The study pinpoints areas for improvement:

  • Food waste (519,400 tons)—could be composted.
  • Mixed recyclable paper (285,400 tons)—could be recycled.
  • Bag and film plastic (192,600 tons)—could be recycled.
  • Wood waste (168,000 tons)—could be diverted.
  • Aluminum (12,000 tons) and PET (23,000 tons) beverage containers—could be recycled.

Why is this important?

Treating waste as a resource benefits both our environment and our economy. Recycling creates jobs: approximately 37,000 jobs in our state are directly or indirectly supported by the industry. These jobs pay almost $2 billion in wages and add nearly $8.5 billion to Minnesota’s economy. The data from this study will be used to target recyclable materials that are being thrown away in large quantities.

Benefits of recycling

Recycling generates profit. Our recyclable material has tremendous economic value. In 2010, Minnesota recycling programs collected approximately 2.5 million tons of material worth $690 million.

Not recycling costs money: Another 1.2 million tons of recyclable material was thrown away, but could easily have been recycled for an additional estimated value of $285 million dollars. Instead, it cost Minnesota more than $200 million to throw it away into landfills.

Some other benefits:

  • Conserves energy
  • Reduces use of natural resources
  • Reduces emissions
  • Conserves landfill space

Benefits of composting

  • Creates a valuable soil addition that improves soil fertility, conserves water, and reduces erosion
  • Conserves landfill space and reduces methane in landfills


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