Cities need to put on the pounds to meet Hennepin recycling goals

Just 2 of 42 cities in county make the goal.

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Felicity Britton sorted recycling at her Minneapolis home on Friday. Her household of four produces one small bag of trash per week.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Is a taste for wine and a fondness for newspapers and magazines the ticket to recycling success for cities in Hennepin County?

When the goal is measured in pounds, having lots of glass and newsprint doesn't hurt.

Just two communities -- Minnetonka Beach and Shorewood -- now meet the county's recycling goal, while cities like Hanover, Long Lake and Dayton will have to double their recycling rates to meet the county's 2015 goal of 725 pounds of recycling per household per year. Minneapolis has almost as steep a hill to climb.

The suburbs at the top of the county's rankings all have single-sort recycling, which allows residents to put cans, glass, paper, plastic and cardboard in one bin.

More than convenience appears to be at work. The affluent community of Minnetonka Beach recycles 50 pounds more per household each year than any other city.

"Some of those households are taking the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal," said Carl Michaud, the county's environmental services director, adding that households that don't get a newspaper have fewer recycling pounds.

Michaud said the county's 725-pound goal is an effort to translate Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) goals for the metro area into an easily measured standard. While some say a better yardstick would be measuring the percentage of waste actually recycled, that is hard to track when cities have multiple haulers or even separate garbage and recycling haulers.

Peder Sandhei, MPCA recycling specialist, has tried to analyze why some cities are more successful with recycling, but he has no magic answer. Although recycling leaders Minnetonka Beach and Shorewood are wealthy communities, Sandhei hasn't come up with a correlation between household income and recycling rates.

"So many factors play into this," he said. "We do know that communities that have organized recycling with one hauler trend better in terms of recycling performance, mostly because of education. If one hauler provides service, everyone gets the same message."

Minnetonka Beach has one hauler for garbage and recycling. City Administrator Susanne Griffith said recycling participation increased after the city switched to single-sort in 2008. Before then, the city recycled 573 pounds per household per year; by last year that had risen to 838 pounds. Newspapers, magazines and glass make up 80 percent of that total.

"Once people got over having a big barrel in their garage, they loved it," Griffith said. "We are a small community and it's a civic thing. People are engaged, and we communicate with them a lot."

At the other end of the spectrum are Long Lake and Dayton. Terrance Post, Long Lake city administrator, said the city is preparing to rebid its recycling contract. The city has a dual-sort system, with one bin for fibers like paper and cardboard and another for containers. Residents have asked about a single-sort system.

"We are hearing more from customers who are saying they have brothers or friends in other communities who have single-sort recycling, and they ask, 'Why can't we?'" he said.

Post said he is unsure why the city ranked near the bottom on the county's list. Long Lake has a number of rental units, where Post said recycling rates may depend on the commitment of landlords. The city is economically diverse, he said. Residents may be less likely to buy magazines and wine than in surrounding cities, but many older people also move south for the winter or go to a cabin in the summer.

"I would submit that family economics play a role," Post said.

Dayton Mayor Doug Anderson said his city is aging, with household size shrinking and the population falling when snowbirds disappear in winter. He wonders if people are cutting back, too.

Many cities use reward programs that award coupons for recycling, which may motivate some people, Sandhei said. But he thinks the best strategy for cities is to have ordinances that are very specific on what's expected from haulers, like frequent education about recycling and certain kinds of curb services.

While single-sort is often cited as the solution to low recycling rates, it also results in higher levels of contaminated material. Sandhei said broken glass that becomes embedded in cardboard or paper has to be separated. Usually the broken glass is just tossed away.

Minneapolis produces more than twice as many tons of recycled material as any other Hennepin County city, but its per-household recycling rate ranks 36th of 42 communities.

City residents must separate recycling into seven groups. While that results in clean and desirable materials, it may discourage recycling participation. Michaud said that while Minnetonka and St. Louis Park residents recycle more than 80 percent of eligible materials, in Minneapolis that figure is just 40 percent.

The city has hired a consultant to see how other big cities recycle, and neighborhoods are piloting dual-sort and single-sort recycling.

Felicity Britton, who lives in a household of four in Minneapolis' Linden Hills neighborhood and is an avid recycler -- her household produces just one tiny bag of garbage per week -- said she would like to see the city adopt a dual-sort system.

"Single-stream is super easy and participation rates go up, but I prefer dual-stream," she said. "If we could have a clean, clear message -- fibers like paper and cardboard in one cart, and containers in another cart -- that's a really easy message for people to understand."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

  • Recycling Pounds per Hennepin County Household, 2010

    1. Minnetonka Beach838

    2. Shorewood788

    3. Hopkins718

    4. Minnetrista706

    5. Greenwood697

    6. Tonka Bay688

    7. Eden Prairie683

    8. Champlin646

    9. Deephaven645

    10. Minnetonka638

    11. Medina637

    12. Richfield630

    13. Bloomington627

    14. Golden Valley624

    15. Wayzata622

    16. Maple Grove600

    17. Woodland580

    18. St. Louis Park565

    19. Plymouth558

    20. Mound556

    21. Orono554

    CITY AVERAGE543

    22. Medicine Lake535

    23. Edina532

    24. Brooklyn Park518

    25. Spring Park489

    Osseo (tied)489

    26. Robbinsdale481

    27. Excelsior479

    28. St. Bonifacius460

    29. St. Anthony453

    30. Maple Plain448

    31. Rockford447

    32. Independence444

    33. Rogers415

    34. Loretto397

    35. Corcoran389

    36. Minneapolis388

    37. Greenfield386

    38. Hassan367

    39. Hanover358

    40. Long Lake355

    41. Dayton336

    Source: Hennepin County

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