Beverage container recycling project: Western Lake Superior Sanitary District and MPCA

Partner organization

  • Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) and MPCA
  • Communities/areas served: Duluth, Cloquet, Hermantown, Proctor, Carlton, Scanlon, Thomson and Wrenshall, and surrounding townships

Project purpose/goals

Bottle recycling container provided by WLSSD to encourage recyclingThe project was designed to increase recycling of bottles and cans by improving access to recycling. Businesses operating within district boundaries are required to have recycling in place per WLSSD’s solid waste ordinance. This effort focused on informing gas stations and convenience stores of that requirement while offering free recycling containers. The provided containers were shaped like soda bottles and had been used successfully in a statewide bottle and can recycling effort sponsored by the Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM). WLSSD provided most of the recycling containers needed for the project with the MPCA supplementing the supply to ensure the project could be completed.

Project team

The project team included MPCA and WLSSD staff. Tim Farnan and Britt Gangeness, from the MPCA’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Unit, were responsible for project management. Their responsibilities included providing outreach to businesses, coordinating project planning with WLSSD, and implementation.

WLSSD and MPCA cooperatively developed the project work plan. WLSSD provided staff to assist with delivery of containers and to do compliance and enforcement with businesses.

Targeted materials

The project aimed to increase recovery for recycling of aluminum and steel cans, glass bottles and PET and HDPE plastic bottles. The vast majority of the material collected via this program is PET bottles—approximately 75 percent.


This program was modeled to operate similarly to the RAM beverage container recycling initiative. That program demonstrated gas stations could successfully divert 40-60 percent of their waste by implementing beverage container recycling.

MPCA staff contacted gas station managers and owners and informed them of the need to comply with the WLSSD ordinance by collecting bottles and cans for recycling. That also informed stations they would be provided with recycling containers at no expense, and they were responsible for working with their recycling hauler of choice to implement recycling service.

MPCA staff coordinated with WLSSD staff to deliver containers to each station and worked with businesses to ensure they made arrangements with haulers to recycle the collected material. Compliance checks followed delivery of the containers and WLSSD staff provided enforcement when/if needed.

Project timeline

Project planning began in fall 2010. Gas stations were added in four phases from December 2010 through May 2011. Compliance and enforcement efforts began in June 2011 and will continue on an annual basis.


Each business in the program is responsible for its hauling charges for recycling service. Haulers reported to WLSSD those services would cost approximately $20-$40 per month depending on service levels. Gas stations were encouraged to monitor trash volumes with the expectation of reducing service levels on trash to offset recycling service fees.

The MPCA and WLSSD contributed staff time and purchased soda-bottle-shaped recycling containers for each gas station. Combined the organizations provided 252 recycling containers (36 provided by MPCA and the remainder by WLSSD). The price per unit changes depending on quantity ordered and shipping charges. The 36 containers purchased by MPCA cost $93.20 each including shipping and handling.

Accomplishments and measurable results

The project successfully implemented recycling at 54 gas stations within the St. Louis County portion of the district. In combination with the nine stations offering beverage container recycling via RAM, all 63 stations in the district have recycling service.

This project resulted in the potential for cost savings for participating businesses, increased recovery of recyclables and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

One gas station, initially skeptical the program could result in cost savings, experienced impressive results. Prior to establishing recycling service, the gas station had a six-yard dumpster for trash and no recycling service. After WLSSD/MPCA brought recycling bins and their hauler provided a 96-gallon cart for recycling service the gas station monitored volumes of trash and recyclables. Within a month and half, the gas station was able to swap containers – now using the 6-yard container for mixed recycling and the 96-gallon cart for trash.

Waste haulers were unwilling to collect and provide data, but the RAM program has collected extensive data (weighing material at each collection point) for the last three to four years. RAM found gas stations around the state average 2-3 tons of beverage containers collected annually. Even small stations in remote areas of the state captured 1.5 tons of material annually and heavy traffic stations (such as those near interstates) collected as much as 5 tons annually. Applying the RAM data to this project the 54 new stations are expected to collect the following volumes of material:

  • MPCA/WLSSD Program: 96.5 tons – 156 tons of material annually
  • RAM WLSSD Area Program: 22 tons – 33 tons of material annually
  • Both programs combined: 118.5 tons – 189 tons of material annually

Increasing recovery of beverage containers as noted above would result in the following reductions in greenhouse gas emissions:

  • MPCA/WLSSD Program: Reduction of 442 MTCO2E - 714 MTCO2E annually
  • RAM WLSSD Area Program: Reduction of 101 MTCO2E - 152 MTCO2E annually
  • Both programs combined: Reduction of 542 MTCO2E - 866 MTCO2E annually

Lessons learned

There were several critical factors to ensuring the success of this project. First, the district’s solid waste ordinance was needed to convince businesses to implement recycling. Without the ordinance few, if any, of the gas stations would have been willing to implement recycling services. The project also required dedicated project management and a strong partnership between the MPCA and WLSSD.

Further information

Contact Tim Farnan at the MPCA with questions about this project at  or 651-757-2348.