County commissioners discussed standardizing a patchwork of local programs across the county.
Hennepin County commissioners are weighing mandatory countywide recycling in the next few years to reduce garbage going to landfills and prepare for rising state recycling targets.
The mandates, recommended to commissioners by county officials at a briefing Thursday, would standardize what is now a patchwork of different recycling programs in municipalities across the county. They would apply to single-family dwellings, apartment complexes and businesses.
One proposal would require recycling of organic waste by businesses and operations that generate a lot of it, such as groceries, schools, hospitals and jails. However, no such requirement to recycle organics was recommended for households.
Organic waste consists of food scraps and the products used to eat. More than 100 schools, 40 businesses and several county operations already separate food waste for reuse.
Public opinion is likely to echo the County Board: Some commissioners said requirements are necessary and others said incentives to recycle would work better.
"This is a huge mandate," said Jeff Johnson, who added that he wanted to know more about the potential cost to residents and businesses. Johnson, who represents the northwest suburbs, suggested that part of the problem would be solved if Minneapolis recycled at the same rate as the suburbs.
Peter McLaughlin, who chairs the board's environment committee, said that incentives also can be expensive and that recycling programs have been most successful with mandates.
"These are fundamental, strategic choices that have to be made," McLaughlin said.
Hennepin County contributes $3 million a year to municipal curbside programs, covering about a third of them.
About 1.4 million tons of waste were generated in the county last year. Of that amount, 41 percent was recycled, 32 percent was incinerated (and converted to electricity) by the county garbage burner and 27 percent wound up in landfills.
With waste reduction and yard waste management credits, the state gave Hennepin County credit for 49 percent recycling. That's lower than the 50 percent required by state law, less than the 60 percent level recommended by the state Pollution Control Agency and far short of a 70 percent recycling goal proposed at the Legislature.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455