Recycled trash delivered $3.4 billion worth of economic treasures to Minnesotans' wallets last year, according to a new Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report issued to state legislators Monday.
The report shows that the conversion of old or used products into new ones created 60,215 jobs, $3.4 billion in wages and $26 billion worth of sales last year.
That's an increase of about 1,700 jobs from 2011, the last year for which the MPCA reported totals to Minnesota legislators, as required by law.
Metal-casting firms, steel foundries, box makers and pallet-reusing warehouses were among the Minnesota sectors significantly boosting the use of recycled goods in their operations.
The MPCA's 2015 analysis and report produced some nice surprises, said Wayne Gjerde, the agency's recycling market development coordinator.
In recent years, the Gerdau Ameristeel operations in South St. Paul ramped up the number of old cars, appliances and cans it converted into construction rebar, some of which is now being used to build the new St. Croix Crossing bridge project.
Since 1998, Vibrant Technologies in Minnetonka saved many old computer servers from the scrap heap by refurbishing and reselling them to firms in 60 developing countries.
"These are examples of where the [recycling] industries were here, but now they are growing," Gjerde said. "Incrementally, these sectors have grown."
Relan, a small company in Mendota Heights, has kept 15 tons of old stadium banners, billboards, shirts and construction fabrics out of landfills over the last four years by converting the materials into fashionable lunch bags, purses and messenger bags.
Della Simpson and her daughter Kari Brizius started Relan four years ago and now have 12 contractors sewing new products.
"It's pretty cool," Brizius said. "Some 600,000 tons of banners and billboards and other sports materials goes out into landfills each year. Our goal would be to touch a great portion of that."
Gjerde notes that every bit helps.
Scores of Minnesota factories and warehouses recently stopped tossing out old pallets used to ship products. Now shipping and receiving departments round up and reuse the pallets or give them to a refurbishing company to mend or ship to energy companies for burning. "It's the perfect closed loop kind of recycling," Gjerde said.
Brita Sailer, co-director of the Recycling Association of Minnesota, said the state also has some new recycling victories in farms and marinas.
In the last three years, pilot programs started around the state that recycle old boat wraps, crop covers and feed silage bags into new wrap. Choice Plastics in Mound now collects semitrailer truckloads of blue boat wrap that is chopped and pelletized and converted into new plastic wrap.
Dakota and McLeod counties started pilot programs in the past two years that let farmers recycle miles of crop bags instead of the usual "burying or burning them," Sailer said.
"We are happy because things have started moving. We have been working on this for years and now there's a breakthrough" and more farmers and boat sellers are asking how they can recycle, Sailer said.
Still, there is more work to do.
About $2.3 billion worth of recyclable materials were pitched and landed in Minnesota landfills between 1996 and 2013. "That's 20 million tons. It's kind of mind-boggling," Gjerde said. "We are throwing away this material and we could be creating a job with it."
Last year, companies manufacturing with recycled materials accounted for 18,029 jobs in the state.
Suppliers and haulers catering to these firms had another 18,607 jobs.
When combined, all of those factory, warehouse and delivery employees created another 23,579 jobs because of the wages those employees were able to spend in their communities on food, housing, and product purchases.
The combined 60,215 jobs delivered $665 million in taxes to the state.
The total economic benefit to Minnesota was an estimated $15.7 billion in "total output" in the form of direct and indirect production, sales, supplies and wages.
Officials from the MPCA said improved reporting methods allowed them to better capture the economic impact of consumer recycling of goods into the retail and service arena.
The MPCA reported that 45,500 direct jobs were created by the "reuse, repair and rental sector" last year. That category reflects employment trends at stores such as Goodwill, St. Vincent De Paul and Value Village.
It also includes cellphone and electronics fix-it stores and even auto repair shops. Such jobs created an additional 31,300 "indirect" and "induced" jobs, which ultimately generated $2.86 billion in wages and $673 million in taxes.
The total economic benefit in sales, goods and services "output" to the state was calculated at $10.3 billion.