Minneapolis’ switch to single-sort recycling has prompted residents to recycle nearly 29 percent more waste than a few years ago, when all recyclables had to be sorted into separate containers.
The shift has also prompted a sizable drop in the number of workers’ compensation claims related to recycling collection, a public works official told a City Council committee Tuesday. He said the citywide rollout of single-sort pickup, which began in July 2013 after launching in parts of Minneapolis several months earlier, has proved to be more efficient for both the people putting their plastic, glass, paper, cardboard and aluminum on the curb — and for the people who pick it up.
Since the mid-1990s, the share of waste recycled by Minneapolis residents has been under 20 percent, dipping as low as 16.5 percent in 2011. But in the period after the city began allowing residents to put their recycling in a single container, those numbers have gone up. In the period from July 2013 to June of this year, the first full year of the citywide single-sort program, the balance hit 25 percent recycling, 75 percent trash.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee, solid waste and recycling director David Herberholz shared comments from residents who said they found themselves recycling more with the new system.
“[It’s a] very well-received program with the residents,” he said.
Herberholz said the change has allowed the city to shift away from using the large, multi-sort recycling trucks into which workers would dump different types of materials. Now, trucks with mechanical arms pick up and dump recycling bins. As a result, workers’ compensation claims related to recycling dropped by more than 62 percent in 2013 compared to a year earlier.
Processing costs have been cheaper than the city projected, at $49 per ton this year. The city had expected the cost to be somewhere between $60 and $80 per ton.
Council members said they are pleased with the city’s progress, but want to encourage Minneapolis residents to do more.
Council Member Blong Yang said particular areas of the city, including his north Minneapolis ward, lag behind others in recycling participation. He said the city should target those neighborhoods with educational campaigns to ensure people know what they can recycle instead of throw away.
Yang said he tagged along with trash haulers a few months ago and was surprised at what he saw on the curb.
“I was appalled at the number of recyclables that were just in the regular trash bins,” he said.
Council Member Cam Gordon noted that while recycling has gone up, so has the total amount of waste the city is producing.
He pointed to a photo showing a small trash container sitting next to a much larger recycling bin.
“That’s the image, of the small garbage cart and the large recycling cart, that I want to see at everybody’s house eventually,” he said.
The city does provide an incentive; while people who want a second trash container pay an extra fee, a second recycling container comes free. Nearly 880 households in the city currently have more than one recycling bin.