Recycling is environmentally preferable to incineration and disposal and can save your company – and the state of Minnesota – money. We may think of waste as “garbage,” but waste materials have value. You might be able to sell your recyclable materials instead of paying to throw them away.
According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA),, Minnesota recycling programs support 60,000 jobs in the state and add $15.7 billion to the economy. However, MPCA estimates roughly 850,000 tons of recyclables are thrown away each year, equating to $153 million (1).
Recycling has broader economic benefits, such as job creation. Research on the U.S. labor market suggests that recycling results in six times more jobs than landfilling (2). According to the EPA, for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled, 1.17 jobs, $65,230 in wages, and $9,420 in tax revenue are generated. These statistics speak to the importance of the recycling economy (3).(4).
Recyclables can be reprocessed into new products, which avoids the resource-intensive process of extracting raw materials. Processing recycled materials is typically more energy efficient than virgin material production. For example, producing recycled-content aluminum saves 95% of the energy required to make aluminum from virgin sources (5).
Unfortunately, there’s no universal key to recycling. Most things are technically recyclable, but you may not be able to recycle a specific item in your area if there’s not a market for it. The “chasing arrows” triangle symbol doesn’t mean that an item is recyclable in your area or program. Even within a geographic area there may be variation from program to program. For example, one program might take milk cartons while another program in the same area may not. In addition, there are certain types of items that should be recycled, just not in your recycling bin – things like electronics and plastic bags. There are drop-off programs for these and other types of recyclables. Use the following resources to find outlets for specific materials:
- Recycle Smart: Difficult Items | Saint Paul Minnesota (stpaul.gov)
- REC-Outreach-Guide-2.0-FINAL-9.23.20.pdf (recycleminnesota.org)
- Recycle More Minnesota | Tools for your media campaign
Hard – to- Recycle Items and Outlets
There are myriad items that are considered “hard-to-recycle.” These span the gamut of textiles to non #2 and #4 soft plastics (bags), gypsum board to carpet and paint. Here is a non-exhaustive but currently maintained list of outlets where you may be able to recycle certain materials in the state of Minnesota.
- Clothing Recycling Service – Tell a new story with your old Textiles! – Retold Recycling
- Miller Waste Mills, Inc. – large quantities from companies
- Bro-Tex | Customized Wiping Solutions | Since 1923
- Where to Recycle – SMARTASN
- Textile Recycling Bag– Tare Market
- St. Vincent de Paul Twin Cities
- For Customers – Whitehouse & Schapiro
Plastic film and bags (laminated, coated, treated)
- Hank’s Specialties | Flooring Supplies & More (hanksspec.com)
- University of Minnesota Recycling Center
- Healthy Planet, Healthy People (black, yellow, white)
- Coon Rapids Recycling Center (white)
Single Gloves and PPE
Keys to a Successful Recycling Program
There are several recycling best practices that should be employed in any recycling program. We’ve grouped these into three areas: infrastructure (containers and signs), education, and evaluation, discussed in more detail below. Learn more on our Waste Assessments, Sorts, and Tools page.
It’s critical to make recycling convenient – as convenient as throwing stuff away. To maximize convenience, your recycling program should:
- have enough recycling containers;
- think about where people dispose of waste. For example, it might not make sense to put containers next to vending machines if people aren’t eating and drinking in that same area;
- strive for containers that look the same throughout the facility. Pick one color for trash cans and one color for recycling bins and stick to it. This makes it easy for people to use the right containers;
- employ clear and consistent signs on or near all containers. Signs with minimal words and colorful images are optimal. Free signs and images are available from the following websites:
- Collection containers – ensure that your collection dumpsters or containers are easily accessed and labeled so that maintenance or custodial staff can dispose of materials from within your facility in the appropriate places.
Good infrastructure is a start, but education is just as important. Ensure that all employees understand your commitment to recycling and know how to use your recycling system – it may differ from what they have at home. Education is especially important when introducing new materials into your recycling program. Go beyond signage and include recycling education in staff meetings and training. And don’t forget about new employees – integrate recycling information into new employee orientation. Recycling advocates or green teams can also deliver reminders, answer questions, and lead by example.
Giving feedback can help you diagnose possible problems and motivate your employees to do even better. Periodically look in your bins to make sure that materials are ending up in the right containers, and then give feedback to employees. Friendly competitions between units or areas can help motivate people to do more. Verbal reports or graphs showing recycling rates over time can also be motivational tools.
- Minnesota Municipal Solid Waste Composition Study (MPCA) – data on what’s in Minnesota’s trash
- Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM) – recycling resources for Minnesota
- Recycling at Work – an action plan and tools for a workplace recycling program
- Recycle More Minnesota – recycling resources for Greater Minnesota
- Solid Waste Management Tax – information on Minnesota’s tax on trash
- U.S. EPA Weight to volume conversions – estimate the weight of material in a container when you only know the container size (volume)
- Powder Coating Recycling – learn more about the powder coating recycling process
- Submerged Arc Welding (SAW): Re-use of Flux via Crushing – learn more about the process to re-use flux
- Call2Recycle – a non-profit that collects and recycles batteries at no cost for municipalities, businesses and consumers
- Minnesota Recycling Markets Directory – outlets for commercial quantities of materials
- Plasticfilmrecycling.org – information about and drop-off locations for plastic film and bags
- Plastics Recycling Terms & Tools – provides plastics recycling information and common terminology to help streamline communications for plastics recycling
Public Space Recycling Resources and Studies
- Eureka Recycling – public space recycling best practices
- MPCA’s CISRR (Cities and Counties Involved in Source Reduction and Recycling) file sharing on public space recycling
- Recycle on the Go (U.S. EPA) – information on developing recycling infrastructure in public places
- Special event recycling best practices
- Green schools (MPCA)
- Recycle More Minnesota Toolkit for Schools
- Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools (U.S. EPA)
- Waste Reduction Awareness Program (WRAP) (Jeffers Foundation) – Information and tools for school food waste reduction