Column: Demographics of garbage reveal opportunities to recycle

Dumpster diving may not be your cup of tea. However, staff at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found a wealth of information by digging in our trash.

The results of their recent study shows us there’s more we can do to manage three million tons of solid waste that will be disposed of in Minnesota this year.

The study found that food and other organic waste makes up about one-third of our garbage, and Minnesotans throw away millions of pounds of recyclable paper, cans and plastics every year.

The top three components of our garbage are organic waste (31 percent), paper (25 percent) and plastics (18 percent).

We need to recycle more, compost more

The study pinpoints areas for improvement:

• Food waste (519,400 tons) could be composted.

• Paper (285,400 tons) could be recycled.

• Plastic bags and film (192,600 tons) could be recycled.

• Aluminum cans (12,000 tons) and plastic bottles (23,000 tons) could be recycled.

Paper, plastic bottle and aluminum cans are accepted in curbside recycling programs.

Plastic bags and film are accepted at many retail locations and in some curbside recycling programs.

Check with your local city or county recycling coordinator or for more information.

Why is this important?

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

Paper gets baled and shipped to paper mills to be reprocessed into new forms. Plastic gets ground into flakes and then reformed into a variety of items, from toothbrushes to chairs to soda bottles.

Metal is exposed to high heat and turned into molten liquid. The liquid is molded into bars and sent to manufacturers.

Most glass can be recycled an endless number of times. Recycled glass makes up about 70 percent of the mix for new glass containers.

Not recycling costs money. In 2010, 1.2 million tons of recyclable material with an estimated value of $285 million was thrown away.

Instead, it cost more than $200 million to dispose of this material in landfills, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

How can we recycle more?

Curbside recycling is available throughout the Twin Cities. Living in an apartment, condo or townhouse?

Check with your landlord as they are responsible for providing recycling options. Also, check or talk with your city or county staff for information on drop-off centers.

The same folks can help you understand which materials are accepted curbside or at a drop-off center.

Learn about backyard or commercial composting at, too.

About 40 percent of what we throw away can be recycled.

When we increase our efforts, we’ll enjoy more benefits, like conserving energy, protecting natural resources and conserving landfill space. Find out more at

About The Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board launched its first education outreach campaign in 2003 to help citizens living in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties understand the urgent need to make environmentally responsible purchasing and disposal decisions in their daily lives. The board is sponsoring its current campaign,

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