Minnesotans care about our environment, and individuals, municipalities, and even businesses want to reduce their carbon footprint and produce less waste. Unfortunately, our best intentions to “do the right thing” aren’t enough. Our state must invest in commonsense plans to help everyone do more to create less waste.
Too Much Waste & Why it Matters
Minnesotans continue to throw away more and more trash. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), two-thirds of what Minnesotans throw out doesn’t need to go to our landfills. Instead, the items could have been reused, recycled, or composted. To reduce what’s thrown out, we need systems in place to make reusing, recycling, or composting easy and accessible.
Minnesota’s 110 landfills pose long-term environmental risks, leak gas emissions, and are lost opportunities to save and recover recyclables. Recycling and reusing reduce the need for new products and materials. For instance, reducing the need for new plastic impacts how much petroleum we drill, and recycling aluminum results in less mining for new materials and is considerably more energy efficient.
Our waste impacts the well-being of communities. Trucks haul large loads of garbage to landfills, polluting the air we breathe and contributing to climate pollution. And in the Twin Cities Metro, nearly half of the trash collected is burned at waste-to-energy facilities. Transportation pollution and burning waste disproportionately impact low-income communities, affecting our health and causing higher rates of asthma, lung diseases, and heart disease.
What can we do?
Reducing waste and keeping recyclables out of landfills are steps we can take to protect our air and water. To have an impact, Minnesota must invest in recycling programs, increase incentives for recycling, and help producers consider the lifecycle of the products they create. Bills to address each of these are moving through the state legislature this year.
Landfills create long-term public health problems. Landfill cleanup has already cost the state $500 million dollars and it’s projected another $300–$400 million is needed for future cleanup. Investing in our waste programs will help prevent more environmental harm and protect public health. We need to support better recycling practices to protect the Minnesota we love.
Supporting Communities with SCORE Funding
SCORE grants improve our recycling programs and fund waste prevention. Legislation to return funds currently diverted away from the program would increase Minnesota counties’ ability to reduce our landfill footprint, focus on proper disposal of toxic waste, and help protect our water, air quality, and land.
Local communities need recycling investments to improve recycling rates and protect our natural resources. According to the MPCA, recycling decreased by nearly 2% just between 2020 and 2021.
Incentivizing Bottle Recycling
A recycling refund bill would incentivize consumers to return and recycle used bottles by adding a small deposit to the price of beverage containers. Consumers could then return the container to redeem their deposit.
Two “bottle bill” states, Michigan and Oregon, regularly achieve redemption rates of around 85%—the average redemption rate across all 10 bottle bill states is around 69%. While in recent years, Minnesota hasn’t tracked the recycling rate of all beverage containers, the MPCA reported that just 56.5% of aluminum cans were recycled in 2021.
Bottle bills also help local recycling centers by reducing the contamination of other recycled materials. In non-bottle bill states, bottles are mixed in with all other recyclables, and broken glass and non-recyclable plastic contaminate materials, making them unusable. Under a bottle bill system, there is much less contamination. This is why over half of all recycled glass in the US is collected from the 10 bottle bill states.
A Minnesota Bottle Bill would also divert tons of material from landfills and allow manufacturers to reuse bottles, helping save enormous amounts of energy and emissions required to produce new ones. Recycling aluminum cans uses 90% less energy than manufacturing a can from new materials.
Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging and paper products holds manufacturers accountable for their products and packaging throughout the entire lifecycle—from product design all the way through to reuse, recycling, or safe disposal. This program would build off Minnesota’s existing recycling infrastructure to reduce the burden on local governments to deal with waste.
In addition, EPR would ensure sustainable funding to offset the cost of collection, expand end-markets, and shift producers to more reusable and sustainable packaging without taxpayer funds. This would lead to the redesign of products to reduce their impacts on the environment.
By increasing recycling, the EPR program would also create more sustainable jobs. Today, about 37,000 jobs in Minnesota are directly or indirectly supported by the recycling industry. These jobs pay almost $2 billion in wages and add nearly $8.5 billion to Minnesota’s economy.
Landfills create long-term public health problems. Landfill cleanup has already cost the state $500 million dollars and it’s projected another $300-$400 million is needed for future cleanup. Investing in our waste programs will help prevent more environmental harm and protect public health. We need to support better recycling practices to protect the Minnesota we love.