Nov. 15 is America Recycles Day. You may have read negative news about recycling in the national headlines recently. We're writing with some facts on the state of recycling here in Minnesota.
(Spoiler alert: It's better here than in other parts of the country, but there are things you can do to help.)
First, your materials are still being recycled. Minnesota recycling markets are stronger than coastal markets.
Coastal cities have tended to rely heavily on exporting materials to China, which recently enacted severe restrictions on the import of recyclables, due in part to high levels of contamination in the recyclable materials sent to China. Other countries have also pushed back on the quality of recyclables exported to them.
These global dynamics highlight that investing in local recycling markets will help keep recycling strong in Minnesota.
What has changed is that the prices for paper, aluminum and cardboard — all those items you place at the curb — have dropped dramatically as a result of China's new policies. When China closed its doors to imports of recyclable materials from the United States, these materials flooded our markets, pushing prices down. Lower material prices put stress on our entire recycling system.
The best thing you can do is to recycle correctly. The better we recycle, the more valuable our recyclables are.
Putting items into your recycling bin that shouldn't be there contaminates the recyclables and reduces their value. Contaminants can also shut down recycling facilities and damage expensive equipment.
Minnesota has a very low recycling contamination rate compared with the rest of the country (in other words, we're good recyclers), but we can do even better. Here are some tips to help you recycle correctly:
• Keep your recyclables clean, dry, and "loose loaded," not bagged. Never put your recyclables in plastic bags, which tangle recycling equipment, causing expensive maintenance issues.
• Always recycle paper, cardboard, bottles and cans.
• Never put batteries or "tanglers" such as hoses, string lights, or fabric in your recycling. Batteries can cause fires and pose a risk to worker safety, and tanglers wrap around recycling equipment and drive up maintenance costs.
• If you have questions about whether an item can be recycled, consult your local government website for information. Save the information you get from your city and county on what can be recycled in your community. Don't "wish cycle." If you don't know whether something should go in your recycling bin, don't put it there. When in doubt, throw it out!
• Buy recycled. When you purchase items like paper, carpet and park/playground equipment that are made from the cans, bottles, and paper that you put in the recycling bin, you are completing the cycle of recycling.
Even better than recycling is not producing waste in the first place. Carrying reusable water bottles, reading on the screen instead of printing, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store — choices like these make a big difference.
Minnesotans have a long tradition of caring for their communities and environment, and recycling is one of the daily activities each of us can do to help conserve national resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy. Join us in keeping Minnesota at the forefront of recycling and environmental health.
This commentary is submitted on behalf of: Victoria Reinhardt, Ramsey County commissioner, Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy Board vice chair; Fran Miron, Washington County commissioner, Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy Board chair; Debbie Goettl, Hennepin County commissioner; Kate Davenport, co-president, Eureka Recycling; Bill Keegan, president, Dem-Con Companies; Josh Allen, Twin Cities Material Recovery Facility, Waste Management; Brita Sailer, executive director, Recycling Association of Minnesota; Michael Gunderson, general manager, WestRock St. Paul Mill Operations; Matt Homan, CEO, Liberty Diversified International; Rob Friend, executive director, Minnesota Waste Wise Foundation; Dana Slade, director, sustainability programs, HealthPartners; Mary Jane Melendez, chief sustainability and social impact officer, General Mills.