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Demographics of garbage


Digging through garbage may not be your idea of fun, but for waste reduction experts at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, studying garbage offers a wealth of information.

Are harmful materials going into the trash, like CFLs? How much of the waste we throw away could we recycle? How much could we compost?

Recently, the MPCA commissioned a statewide study of what we are tossing into our garbage cans. The group studied garbage from six facilities throughout the state and separated it into nine primary categories.

Results of study

The study found that Minnesota waste has changed over the last 13 years, since the last study in 2000.

Paper, plastics, and organics are still the top three components of our garbage, but the proportions have changed—plastic is up, food is up, but paper is down.


What does this mean for managing waste in Minnesota? Nearly 3 million tons of solid waste will be disposed of in Minnesota this year. This study will help the MPCA and local governments plan their efforts to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills through increased recycling, composting, and waste prevention.

We need to recycle more, compost more

The study pinpoints areas for improvement:

  • Food waste (519,400 tons)—could be composted.
  • Mixed recyclable paper (285,400 tons)—could be recycled.
  • Bag and film plastic (192,600 tons)—could be recycled.
  • Wood waste (168,000 tons)—could be diverted.
  • Aluminum (12,000 tons) and PET (23,000 tons) beverage containers—could be recycled.

Why is this important?

Treating waste as a resource benefits both our environment and our economy. Recycling creates jobs: approximately 37,000 jobs in our state are directly or indirectly supported by the industry. These jobs pay almost $2 billion in wages and add nearly $8.5 billion to Minnesota's economy. The data from this study will be used to target recyclable materials that are being thrown away in large quantities.

Benefits of recycling

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

Not recycling costs money: Another 1.2 million tons of recyclable material was thrown away, but could easily have been recycled for an additional estimated value of $285 million dollars. Instead, it cost Minnesota more than $200 million to throw it away into landfills.

Some other benefits:

  • Conserves energy
  • Reduces use of natural resources
  • Reduces emissions
  • Conserves landfill space

Benefits of composting

  • Creates a valuable soil addition that improves soil fertility, conserves water, and reduces erosion
  • Conserves landfill space and reduces methane in landfills
Last modified on December 05, 2013 10:40

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