We can and should recycle more

  • Article by: DAN COSTELLO
  • Updated: January 31, 2014 - 6:50 PM

If we do, we’ll be taking advantage of state’s modern waste-to-energy systems.


Jesse Van Beek, a Covanta boiler operator, views trash burning inside one of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Facility’s two boilers that convert waste to energy in downtown Minneapolis.

Photo: DAVID JOLES • Star Tribune file,

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When it comes to recycling and managing our trash, I agree with the Jan. 26 editorial (“Minnesota needs a lot more trash talk) that we should strive to increase metro-area recycling and composting well beyond the existing 41 percent.

What I have a problem with is the word “incineration.” To me, that implies uncontrolled waste burning and destroying valuable resources. To the contrary, modern waste-to-energy facilities, like those we have in Minnesota, are equipped with state-of-the-art pollution controls. They convert the trash that would otherwise be put in landfills into valuable energy products such as steam and electricity.

I recently traveled through Western Europe, Japan and other developed countries to learn how they manage their waste streams. Without exception, they recycle and compost their trash way more than we do here in the United States, and they typically convert their residuals into energy via waste-to-energy plants.

A favorite takeaway of mine was delivered by a leader in Germany’s Green Party when challenged on the party’s support of waste-to-energy. His response: “Sure, we would prefer to be able to recycle and compost everything, but the reality is we are not there yet. Since we recycle at least twice as much as you do in the U.S., on top of the fact that we generate about a third as much trash as you do in the U.S., we are totally comfortable converting the leftovers into energy even if a random plastic bottle winds up being burned.” The challenger from the United States quickly took his seat.

As a side note, I would have to see the facts to agree that a 10-cent container deposit would be cost-, energy- and environmentally effective. Along with many others, we take full advantage of our single-sort curbside program to recycle everything they take. We also mulch our yard clippings and bring our other yard waste to the Maple Grove composting site. The deposit option would not do those who take advantage of the recycling and reuse options available any good.

Dan Costello is a retired civil engineer who spent 25 years in the solid waste management industry. He lives in Champlin.

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