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Supporting MN Counties in Recycling

by Nels Paulsen,
Policy Director

Conservation Minnesota is a strong supporter of returning diverted revenue from the solid waste management tax, back to counties for SCORE grants. Last week, Policy Director Nels Paulsen presented to the House Environment committee on HF 2367, legislation to return SCORE grant funding to counties for recycling and composting. Here is the letter he submitted in support.

March 10, 2022

RE:     HF2367 (Hornstein) 

To: Chair Hansen and the Environment & Natural Resources Finance & Policy Committee

On behalf of the members of Conservation Minnesota located in all of Minnesota’s 87 counties, we write to express our strong support for HF2367 (Hornstein). As an organization, our mission is to protect the people and the places that Minnesotans love; and capturing the environmental and economic benefits of recycling and waste reduction is central to this goal

In 1989, the Legislature adopted a set of recycling and waste reduction laws, known as SCORE, in order to effectively manage municipal solid waste according to the state’s hierarchy, emphasizing waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The primary outcome of SCORE was the allocation of state funding (via the solid waste management tax) for grants to counties to support this management, providing necessary funding for waste reduction activities, recycling, composting, household hazardous waste programs, and problem materials collection. SCORE immediately became a pivotal part of recycling budgets, helping local communities meet the state’s waste hierarchy and, later, the state’s recycling goals. However, over time, the state has failed to adjust SCORE grants along with inflation, neglecting counties in order to redirect large portions of the solid waste tax to the General Fund. Today, only 20% of solid waste taxes go to support county SCORE grants, even as 30% or $27.2 million is diverted to the General Fund.

The diversion of Minnesota’s solid waste management tax away from the Environment Fund, and away from the SCORE grants that rely on the fund, has limited counties’ ability to meet or surpass recycling goals and deliver key benefits from waste reduction and recycling. According to the MPCA, Minnesotans are still throwing away more than 850,000 tons of recyclables, with an estimated value of $153 million. In the 2019 SCORE Report, the state found that the combined recycling and organics rate decreased from the prior year, falling 3.6% to 43.5% statewide. In Greater Minnesota, the report found that the combined recycling and organics rate had decreased by over 7% since 2014. And, as a result of falling recycling rates and waste-to-energy closure, statewide landfilling of municipal solid waste increased by over 250,000 tons between 2018 and 2019. In order to turn the tide and achieve zero-waste goals, our communities need to invest in infrastructure and program changes. But at the moment, counties are being left with significant funding gaps due to solid waste tax diversion at the state level.

HF 2367 (Hornstein) is a bipartisan bill that seeks to make a long-overdue adjustment to solid waste management tax allocation, and to provide counties with additional resources for waste reduction and recycling. This legislation gradually phases out diversions of the solid waste tax to the General Fund, increasing the contribution to the Environment Fund and directing the increased funding toward SCORE. Given the state’s current budget surplus, now is the time to recapture funds diverted to the General Fund and make the necessary increases to local recycling programs without raising taxes on Minnesotans. 

Investing in SCORE is an effective way to create expansive, multiplying economic and environmental benefits for communities in all parts of Minnesota. According to the MPCA, recycling supports more than 60,000 jobs in our state, paying almost $3.4 billion in wages and adding nearly $15.7 billion to Minnesota’s economy. Annually, Minnesota recycling programs collect approximately 2.5 million tons of material worth over $690 million. Across the country, recycling and reuse activities create 1.17 jobs for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled and generate over $5.5 billion in tax revenues every year. Recycling and waste reduction represent major economic opportunities nationwide, and developing local recycling markets keeps those opportunities in Minnesota.

Increasing recycling and limiting waste is a vital aspect of protecting our environment and the people who rely on it. Waste reduction and recycling decreases the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators, limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Landfills, in particular, are a major source of methane emissions. According to the MPCA, food that could otherwise be recycled through organics programs makes up 18% of landfills in Minnesota, where it breaks down and produces methane gas with heat-trapping potential 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. Recycling and waste reduction programs also help our state save energy by avoiding unnecessary, energy-intensive primary production, and they limit harmful air and water pollution by decreasing the need for extractive practices and the potential for landfill leachate or incineration emissions. 

Today, this committee has an opportunity to help deliver the benefits of recycling and waste reduction by providing meaningful assistance to local communities. Local governments need help in developing and implementing efficient recycling and waste diversion programs, and that starts with recapturing the portion of the solid waste tax paid by citizens that has been diverted to the General Fund. The state’s economic situation offers a unique window to invest in communities across Minnesota and to generate lasting, wide-ranging economic and environmental impacts—without raising the solid waste management tax by a single cent. On behalf of our members, we thank the bipartisan group of legislators responsible for bringing forward HF 2367, and we hope that the committee will support this bill. 

Sincerely,

Nels Paulsen, Policy Director (608) 469-5299 nels@conservationminnesota.org
David Pelikan, Policy Associate (262) 685-7265 david@conservationminnesota.org