The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) retained a project team of Burns & McDonnell, Inc. (lead consultant), MSW Consultants, and GRG Analysis to conduct a statewide waste characterization study to assist the MPCA and local governments with their planning efforts associated with managing municipal solid waste. Data and analysis will be especially useful for identifying opportunities for reducing disposal as "waste" through recycling, composting, and waste prevention.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency contracted with a project team led by Burns & McDonnell to conduct a statewide waste characterization study for Minnesota. Data were collected at six waste sites around Minnesota in 2013. (Errata: in the original publication, data were transposed for "Compostable Paper" and "Mixed Recyclable Paper.")
Overview of the statewide waste characterization study in Minnesota. Presentation by Robert Craggs, lead consultant with Burns & McDonnell.
Results of study
The study found that Minnesota waste has changed over the last 13 years. 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? 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. 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