There’s a new twist in the yearslong debate over how to increase the Minnesota recycling rate beyond 50 percent for paper, packaging and the growing avalanche of plastic and other containers.
Business is at odds with itself over the recent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency study that would put a 10-cent deposit on beverage containers. It would create about 1,000 jobs, but threaten existing businesses in the state’s $8.5 billion recycling industry that spans cans to scrapped cars.
The Recycling Association of Minnesota, which represents 200 businesses and nonprofits, is divided over proposed deposit legislation.
Paul Gardner, a former legislator and executive director of Minnesota-based Recycling Reinvented noted that consumer and manufacturing companies can’t agree either. His organization, funded largely by Nestlé’s huge bottled-water company, believes that producers should pay for an expanded system. The two biggest champions of Recycling Reinvented (www.recycling-reinvented.org) are strange bedfellows who don’t agree on much beyond the fact that a game-changer is needed. They are Board Chairman Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the career environmental lawyer, and Kim Jeffery, chairman of Connecticut-based Nestlé Waters North America, the largest bottled water company in North America with 8,000 employees and 100 plants and other facilities. They met by chance a few years ago and agreed to collaborate. Gardner is working with other makers of consumer products who would pay for recycling their own share of packaging, much as paint companies and electronics makers do now, instead of “taxpayers who pay on garbage bills, property taxes and utility bills,” said Gardner. His proposal drew significant interest at a State Capitol briefing last week. “We don’t want to just shift the cost, but make the system work better. The private sector has been saying we need more recycled material as feedstock for new products … for the last decade … glass, aluminum, plastic, paper, paint.
“The private sector is looking for a more efficient way to collect this material, and that resonates with Republicans. Use the private sector to collect fees, scale up, best practices and increase recycling rates and it would [cost] in the range of what we’re paying now. We defy definition. I’m a former DFL legislator. Nestlé Waters is our main funder. Their CEO sat on a plane with Robert F. Kennedy and they were polar opposites except on recycling … and they are both on our board. Some critics say we’re trying for a corporate takeover of recycling and others say we’re trying to import socialism from Europe. Everybody says their idea will create new jobs.”
The studies are in. We need more recycled content to make more products that require less energy and generate less garbage. There’s a consensus on that. This approach deserves consideration after years of deadlock.
North Minneapolis skills trainer gears up
Louis King, the dynamic president of Summit Academy OIC of north Minneapolis, and a driver behind its enrollment surge and increased placement of minorities in the construction trades, reports that Summit has received a record $1.65 million in year-end foundation grants to expand its health care training and bolster the construction program.
The nonprofit business, which provides educational and vocational training targeted at people from low-income neighborhoods, will add evening classes, training at satellite locations in St. Paul and increase enrollment to further the education-and-employment approach to community improvement.
“We have achieved great success in our construction program and put hundreds of people to work,” King said. “We are confident we can duplicate that success in the growing field of health care, which is experiencing increased demand due to our aging population. The demographic shift [as the Twin Cities increases its minority population] coupled with disproportionately high unemployment rates that exist in communities of color will cause a major workforce shortage unless we make some serious changes. We have an obligation to develop solutions that will decrease the gaps.”
Summit plans to double enrollment of its health care program and increase overall enrollment to 1,000 by 2016. Summit placed nearly 300 graduates in health care and construction jobs in 2013. The health care trades include community health workers, pharmacy technicians and certified nursing assistants.
The funders include the Kresge Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, McKnight Foundation and Wider Opportunities for Women in conjunction with Wal-Mart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative.
• Skybridge Americas, the call center and fulfillment business based in Greenfield in the northwest corner of the Twin Cities area, has hired more than 100 permanent employees over the past 60 days, and said it will add 100 more during the first quarter of 2014. Some of the growth of the 850-employee outfit stems from a five-year contract extension with Publishers Clearing House and contracts with newspapers that outsource some customer service functions, including the Star Tribune.
• General Mills, for the 11th time since 1998, made Fortune’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” General Mills ranked No. 64 this year. Among the three Minnesota companies on the list Allianz Life Insurance of North America ranked highest at No. 47, up from No. 59 a year ago. The Mayo Clinic ranked No. 53 this year, down from No. 41 a year ago. Allianz was lauded for recruiting and retaining veterans, an on-site day care center, fitness center and outdoor courtyard where the walking trails and even the bonfire pit are used year-round. More information at www.fortune.com/bestcompanies.
• A foundation for children established in 1999 by the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi has reached $16 million in contributions for educational, social justice and health programs in Minnesota. The foundation was created with proceeds the firm received as counsel in the landmark $6.1 billion tobacco settlement.