In Duluth, trying to cut waste by studying it

  • Associated Press
  • May 24, 2013 - 11:43 AM

DULUTH, Minn. - The city of Duluth is digging deep into its trash to try to figure out how to make less of it.

Contract employees are sorting through samples of Duluth's garbage this week and sorting it into 44 categories. They'll report the results to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which is paying for the survey.

The Duluth News Tribune reports ( that the goal is to find out exactly what is being thrown away that should be recycled, and how much of it there is.

Judy and Elmer Gilow's firm, GRG Analysis of Winona, Minn., landed the contract to dig through the trash. It's something they've done since 1989, and they say they've learned how to deal with it.

"We used to wear a mask — the whole deal — but not anymore," said Judy Gilow. "Now, a half-hour into it and you don't even notice it anymore."

They and their crew sorted through garbage on the transfer floor at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District. They were sorting through 10 loads of trash a day for three days — 200 pounds per load — randomly selected from the 60 garbage trucks that dump their loads at the WLSSD each day. Then they sort the garbage into 44 categories — at least the ones they can identify.

In just a few minutes of watching the Gilows on the WLSSD floor this week, it became obvious people weren't doing all they could to cut down on the tons of waste going to landfills — 87,000 tons through WLSSD last year.

Much of it is food waste that could easily be composted. It includes a staggering number of plastic beverage bottles and aluminum cans, some in almost every garbage bag the crew opened; clothing that might have been donated and reused; paper that could have been recycled. Wood. Junk. Electronics.

"Actually, it's better than most places. Minnesota is better than most states," Judy Gilow said. "Especially with the hazardous materials. We don't see hardly any of it here, and that's good."

The sampling turned up many items that were not at all candidates for recycling: bags of dog poop, cat litter, personal hygiene products, soiled diapers and other unmentionables.

"We've seen it all. Human remains. Dead animals. Nothing would surprise me now," Elmer Gilow said as he dumped a container of rotten potato salad into the food category bin.

It's the first comprehensive study of what Duluth area residents throw out since 1999. It's one of six underway in Minnesota this summer.

The 1999 survey found about 14 percent of garbage by weight at WLSSD. Officials are hoping the number is lower this time around after efforts to increase composting. The '99 survey found plastic was 13 percent of local trash, and officials feared that would go up given trends by retailers for more single-serving beverage sales.


Information from: Duluth News Tribune,

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