How Much Do We Waste?

Minneapolis recycling goals are ambitious for 2020. According to a 2015 Hennepin County Recycling Progress Report, there are a lot of ways we can do better.

whats in trash dataAs the City of Minneapolis moves toward a 2020 zero-waste goal of 50% sent to recycling and composting centers, rather than landfills, Hennepin County’s new Recycling Progress Report gives an indication of how far we need to go to get there.

Minneapolis is not in the Top 10 of the County for recycling efforts. But it improved from 28th out of 44 cities, to 25, with an increase in poundage of 8% — 503 pounds of recycling collected per household. In comparison, Eden Prairie ranks 2nd in the county with 724 pounds of recycling collected per household, up from 5th place in 2013. (Greenwood continues to rank first with more than 1,000 pounds collected per household.)

A substantial percentage of waste sent to Hennepin County landfills continues to be organics (which curbside composting will attempt to address in coming years), paper, and plastics.

Report: “More than 30 percent of our trash is organic material that can be composted. Recycling organics, such as food scraps and non-recyclable paper, is an easy way to reduce trash and make a difference. Minneapolis will soon roll out its organics recycling program, with 25 percent of residents eligible to start participating in August 2015 and the remainder in Spring 2016.”

HennCoRecycleGoalDataInteresting Numbers

  • The recycling sector in Minnesota provides 37,000 local jobs.
  • All 44 cities in Hennepin County have single-sort recycling.
  • Businesses generate more than half of the total waste in Hennepin County. A law passed in the 2014 Minnesota state legislative session will require most businesses in the Twin Cities metro area to start recycling by January 1, 2016.
  • An effort to reach schools has been in place since 2002. Research indicates 80 percent of school waste is recyclable or compostable. Currently more than 170 schools in Hennepin County participate in organics composting.
  • The county’s portable recycling containers were used at 89 zero-waste events in 2014, including the Loppet Foundation Ski Festival, the Loring Park Art Festival, the Taste of Greece Festival, the Uptown Art Fair and the Walker Art Museum’s Internet Cat Video Film Festival.
  • Two dropoff facilities, in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park, take electronics, appliances and household hazardous waste. Special collections are also offered at local events, libraries, community centers and senior living facilities. In 2014, drop-off facilities received 1,358 tons of household hazardous waste. Collection sites facilitated proper disposal of 9 tons of medicines and 64 tons of batteries.
  • At Fix-It Clinics, residents bring in small household appliances, clothing, electronics, etc., and receive free, guided assistance from volunteers with repair skills. In 2014, there were 13 clinics, drawing 680 attendees, who repaired more than 800 items, preventing an estimate 5,100 pounds of waste from reaching landfills.
Hennepin County is one of six pilot programs in the U.S. that recycles alkaline batteries through the Corporation for Battery Recycling, a nonprofit that includes the three major battery manufacturers in the North American market (Duracell, Energizer and Panasonic). Energizer recently announced that they will be producing a battery made with four percent recycled batteries.

residential recycling dataChallenges

1. A Washington Post article recently quoted the CEO of Waste Management as saying that recycling efforts — such as costs associated with single-sort processing — are expensive, perhaps making this a less-than-sustainable business. A paper recycling consultant quoted in the article indicated that we’ve made recycling seem free and effortless, yet, it is getting more expensive to accomplish. ( will be exploring this story in more depth.)

waste generated data2. A large percentage of landfill waste is from construction and demolition of houses, buildings, roads, bridges. This includes wood, asphalt, wallboard, brick, fixtures, electrical wiring, concrete, vinyl siding, paper, plastic, metal, glass, yard waste and dirt. About 70 percent of waste generated from C&D in the metro area was landfilled in 2013, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. (See our three-part series on green building standards and salvage here.)

whose trash? dataGoals

  • One of many goals listed in the Hennepin County report is to direct more waste to “processing facilities that recover recyclables and energy, rather than going to landfills.” Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco are leading this effort. See “The Cost of House Demolition” for more detail on what these cities are doing.
  • Multifamily units in Minneapolis will be targeted for outreach efforts. The intent is to work with more property managers, reuse retailers and recyclers to develop a program that diverts bulky waste, such as couches, mattresses, furniture and electronics, for reuse and recycling.
  • Discarded clothing and other textiles also are a target in 2015. The re-use community will help Hennepin County design a textile collection program for multifamily properties, as well as at Hennepin County drop-off facilities for textiles that are not in good enough condition to be donated or reused.
  • The Pack and Give Back program was developed to address the substantial increase in waste generation in neighborhoods near the University of Minnesota at the start and end of each school year. In 2014, an estimated 84,000 pounds of reusable goods were diverted from landfills through partnerships with a nonprofit thrift store and the Free Store operated at the U of M ReUse Program warehouse.
  • Increasingly, there needs to be increased markets for recycled products, such as manufacturers using recycled material to make new products. ( will begin to spotlight companies that are doing that. Use the Contact Form to let us know what you are doing to creatively re-use materials.)

Note: all data and graphs came from the Recycling Progress Report, April 2015, Hennepin County Environment and Energy. It is also accessible below in PDF form.

Recycling Progress Report