How much of your trash gets recycled?

Workers hand-sort recyclables at Waste Management’s Materials Recovery Facility in Minneapolis. (MPR News/Jeffrey Thompson)

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, writes MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.

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. Food waste increased from 26 percent to 31 percent.

MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine called the report a “wake-up call,” pointing to the large amount of recyclable material being thrown away.

Today’s Question: How much of your trash gets recycled?

  • Rich in Duluth

    I would guess we recycle 90% of our waste. We usually have only one or two small bags in the garbage bin each week. The recycle bin is nearly full every two weeks. It’s got a high percentage of junk mail in it. In addition, we have a compost heap where we put all of our food scraps (no meat), garden scraps, and tree leaves.

    I grew up in a Northern Virginia suburb. My folks have always had a compost heap, even on a relatively small suburban lot. At the age of 97, my Dad still carries the table scraps out to the compost heap.

  • PaulJ

    We can’t compost in the winter, so that lowers our percent. And since I’ve been married, I no longer take out trash (hehehe).

    • Yes, you absolutely can compost in the winter. It will break down more slowly than during the rest of the year, but if you’re willing to keep a path to your bin cleared of snow, you can put food scraps in it. I, and many other Minnesotans, do so.

      • PaulJ

        Don’t you have to layer dirt over it? The ground is frozen.

        • Nope. I’ve never layered dirt over my compost pile.

  • Jim G

    We don’t have to sort our recycling like I once did in another inner-ring suburb making it much easier to recycle. Now our recycle bin is always filled to overflowing on pick-up day, and we have one maybe two bags garbage each week. I tried composting, but it isn’t my thing. Plus, I don’t want the dogs the sniffing around for snacks that later emerge in a different form in the house. It’s not fun cleaning up partially composted veggies that have fermented in a dog’s stomach.

  • James

    The recycling bin if full to overflowing every 2 weeks. The garbage can is pretty empty. Mainly with food waste.
    Can anyone explain why they only pick up recycling every 2 weeks? I personally would rather have a slightly smaller bin and weekly pickup.
    Also, I have a 2nd house in St Cloud. St Cloud has a compost site. It’s fantastic. Branches, garden waste and leaves to the site. Free compost back from the site. All for $25 a year and the cost of a utility trailer. I wish my Twin Cities suburb had one.

  • Cosmos

    My garbage is about an eight gallon bag every week, some weeks not even full. I recycle paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and cans. Nearly all of my food waste goes into a Solar Cone, which I use year round. Yard waste is either composted on site or put in a yard waste bin for collection.

    I’d like to see garbage collection move to every other week, it would save money, wear and tear on the roads and fuel consumption. I don’t see that happening anytime soon as most people fill their garbage with food waste.

    The other option I’d like to see, which could come sooner, is to start charging for garbage collection by volume. My home town does that, you buy special garbage bags for an inflated price that includes trash pick up, and just put out a bag for trash pick up.

  • david

    Everything that can be recycled gets recycled. When I had my town house we tried the curbside pickup composting bin, but the association rule was garbage cans must be kept in the garage. Come summer it was not a good thing so I cancelled it. Shame because you got a rebate that just about paid for the regular trash pickup for the year.

  • TunerGeek

    I see some good news/bad news in these comments… Good news is that the people who are posting are recycling more than they’re trashing. Bad news is that the first two rule of the “chasing arrows” of the recycling triangle are “Reduce” and “Reuse”… “Recycle” is third, and least productive of the three. Still an improvement over landfill or burning, but not the very best.

  • lionwarningcat

    When I first moved to my apartment, the recycling had to be sorted. It is rather difficult to carry a plastic garbage can down three flights of stairs and then across a large parking lot to the recycling bins.

    Now that we no longer have to sort the recycling, I can put it in a white trash bag and put it in the bin.

    Another way to recycle paper is to put it through a cross-cut shredder and then use it for package cushioning when sending birthday, Christmas and other packages by US mail, or UPS. The person on the receiving end can then easily put it in the recycling bin. I do this with junk mail and credit card solicitations and when cleaning out old bills and bank statements. This also works well for packing fragile items when moving to a new residence.

  • Marcus

    I know when I lived in Seattle they started a city wide compost program. Households got a bin like a recycleing bin. I know Minnesota isn’t as progressive as Seattle, but this seems like a no-brainer. The city could sell the compost back to the public.

  • Care

    I do what I can, but I shudder at the amounts of container waste we recycle, particularly in comparison to what we did when this issue first arose in the 1970s. Conspicuous consumption is far worse than a generation or two ago. One recent problem for us has been a change in sort rules, which has made a mess of our building’s recycle containers, jumbling all materials together and making ambiguous what paper products can be recycled.