New, one-sort recycling bins were delivered to participants in a Minneapolis pilot in 2011. All homes had one-sort by June 2013. Credit: File photo

New, one-sort recycling bins were delivered to participants in a Minneapolis pilot in 2011. All homes had one-sort by June 2013. Credit: File photo

Recycling up since switch to one-sort

A shrinking percentage of Minneapolis waste is burned in the HERC incinerator

A greater percentage of Minneapolis’ household waste is being recycled rather than incinerated since the switch to one-sort recycling.

From July 2013 to July 2014, the first full year after one-sort went citywide, about 25 percent of waste was recycled while 75 percent was burned in the downtown Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, or HERC. The split was 18 percent recycled to 82 percent incinerated from June 2009 to June 2010, when Minneapolis residents still sorted their recycling into separate bags.

“We’re tracking in the right direction,” said David Herberholz, director of solid waste and recycling, who delivered a report on recycling Tuesday to the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee.

During the first 12 months of citywide one-sort, 28,784 tons of waste were collected for recycling, while 85,863 tons were burned at the HERC waste-to-energy facility. Compared to the final 12 months of citywide multi-sort, that’s a 29 percent increase in recycling by weight and 16 percent decrease in trash sent to the HERC.

“This (one-sort) program is really necessary for the fact that we needed something that was easier for residents to participate in,” Herberholz said.

While the requirement under the old multi-sort system to sort recyclables into separate bags likely discouraged some households from recycling, it trained Minneapolis residents to be scrupulous recyclers. The city’s “residual rate” — the amount of non-recyclable material mistakenly placed in recycling bins — was below 5 percent during the first full year of one sort.

“That speaks very well to the commitment of the residents to have a clean product,” Herberholz said.

It also increases the chances that Waste Management, the city’s recycling provider, will get a good price for the paper, glass, plastic and other materials on the secondary market. The city shares revenue from those sales with Waste Management.

Herberholz said most metro-area recycling facilities switched to one-sort processing systems in recent years. That’s meant processing costs for recyclables are lower than was projected before the launch of one-sort recycling, which saves the city some money. It also confirms the decision to opt for one-sort over a dual-sort scheme, he added.

Herberholz said one-sort was “well-received” by residents, some of who reported recycling more because it was easier. Participation rates, though, vary widely across the city.

The weight of recyclables collected per dwelling unit is highest in a large swath of 10 Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods stretching from Kenwood down to Fulton and over to Tangletown. They’re significantly lower in CARAG, which borders two high-recycling neighborhoods, and Whittier.

Both of those neighborhoods are in City Council Member Lisa Bender’s Ward 10, and Bender suggested a higher number of multi-family residential buildings might lead to lower participation rates.

The city doesn’t have all the answers, but poor communication between tenants and landlords could be one factor, Heberholz said.

He also noted neighborhoods like Linden Hills, home to some of the most dedicated recyclers in the city, have for years been “pretty active in doing a lot of door-to-door communications and pushing the education.”

“I would expect the numbers to be higher there,” he said.

The city is planning a targeted education and outreach effort to boost recycling rates in neighborhoods were recycling is low. That includes a concentration of low-recycling neighborhoods in City Council Member Blong Yang’s Ward 5.

Yang said he recently went on a waste-hauler ride-along through his ward and was “appalled” at the amount of recyclables put in trash bins, including disposable plastic water bottles.

One-sort has also made collecting recyclables simpler and safer for the city, Herberholz noted in the report.

New recycling collection vehicles have one big compartment instead of multiple smaller compartments for different recyclables. The new trucks are smaller, requiring less space to store in city lots, and just 12 can complete all of the city’s routes, half as many as the 24 multi-sort trucks.

Herberholz said 33 percent of his department’s injuries were recycling related in 2012. That was down to 12 percent in 2014, reducing the cost of worker compensation claims.

City Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) praised the progress, but added that the city still has a long way to go to reach Mayor Betsy Hodges’ zero-waste goal. Noting the amount of waste burned at the HERC between July 2013 and June 2014, he said, “I know we’d like to get to zero waste, and we’d like to have that 85,863 tons down to zero.”


A map prepared by the Department of Solid Waste and Recycling shows disparities in recycling participation rates. Those neighborhoods shaded darker recycle the most as measured in pounds per dwelling unit.