Landfilled recyclables, organics costing Minnesota

Landfilled recyclables, organics costing Minnesota

By Bobby Elliott, Resource Recycling

Nov. 20, 2013

A study released earlier this week found that Minnesota residents are wasting more than $200 million each year by throwing away valuable organics and recyclables.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), waste stream data indicates that almost two-thirds of the state's 2.9 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2012 was comprised of organics and recyclables. As a result, approximately $217 million worth of materials are being squandered annually and one-third of the state's MSW could still be recycled.

The agency would like to use this data, the first of its kind since 2000, "to identify opportunities for diversion through recycling, composting and other higher use value methods," according to the 2013 Statewide Waste Characterization study.

Minnesota's recycling rate is significantly higher than the roughly 35 percent national average. According to MPCA principal planner Peder Sandhei, Minnesota's recycling rate in 2012 reached 45.6 percent. Despite this, the waste characterization study shows there are still strides to be made, especially when it comes to composting food waste and recycling plastics.

According to the study, 31.0 percent of the state's MSW – 519,400 tons – is organic material, jumping 5.3 percentage points from 2000's total of 25.7 percent. Half of the organics headed for the trash were wasted, MPCA found, providing the greatest impetus yet for increased composting and reducing food waste, according to Sandhei. "The organics information is the most obvious issue we can, and will, address with more organics recycling and composting," Sandhei said in a press release.

While the decline of newspapers and printed paper has led to fiber constituting less of Minnesota's overall waste stream, the amount of plastics thrown away since 2000 has increased. In 2000, plastics represented just 11 percent of the waste stream. Plastics now represent 18 percent of the state's annual waste, and MPCA is focused on identifying additional avenues for plastic film, bag and container recycling as it develops a draft proposal for a statewide deposit program.

Following a national trend, data shows that Minnesotans are consuming more and more beverages away from home, where recycling access is limited. While the agency remains undecided as to the merit of a deposit program, Sandhei expressed to Resource Recycling that data at least provides the state with more information. "What it does do is give us better data to evaluate that question," Sandhei said. " It's just one of the pieces to the puzzle and it certainly highlights that there are beverage containers in the waste stream, which we knew already. It doesn't necessarily lead us to a decision, but it may lead others to support a deposit program."

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