The successful recycling programs of West Coast cities like San Francisco and Seattle are driving more and more cities to take a hard look at their own waste management practices. One city, Minneapolis, is looking to lead the Midwest in zero waste. Yesterday, a public hearing was held on a proposal to ban foam takeout containers, a particularly difficult trash item to recycle. Additionally, the city government will be starting a new program to collect food scraps and other organics as part of the city’s curbside waste collection service.
Minneapolis, a city of 380,000 people, is no stranger to the idea of zero waste. Many surrounding metro areas and suburbs have enacted their own composting programs that require residents to dispose of their food waste in separate collection bins. But the city itself has lagged behind with a recycling rate of just 37%, a scant 2% higher than the national average.
The concept of zero waste is appealing to many in Minneapolis’ government. Not only would it help the environment, but it would keep the city streets cleaner and potentially provide a great source of revenue for the city. Studies have shown that a properly run recycling program can actually generate money for cities through the sale of recyclable materials. However, this can be affected by commodity prices, which are not always favorable to sellers of recycled aluminum and other materials.
But reaching the threshold of zero waste, traditionally regarded as diverting 90% or more of a city’s waste, is still far from being realized in Minneapolis. As David Herberholz, Minneapolis’ Director of Solid Waste and Recycling said, “maybe down the line we need to get to some level like San Francisco…for right now the framework is not there.” West coast cities have had ample time to build up the infrastructure necessary to achieve their stellar recycling rates. Everything from recycling centers to getting the right collection trucks has to be in place in order to effectively divert 90% or more of a city’s waste from landfills. And such a logistical challenge is one that cannot be solved overnight.