Expanding Commerical Recycling

Emily Barker

Recycling: Most of us are at least generally familiar with it, even if we can’t always keep straight what goes in the bin and what doesn’t. We dutifully separate our glass bottles, aluminum cans, used paper, and plastic yogurt containers, and as a result, Minnesota has a recycling rate somewhere just over 40% (including a small amount of organic material that is fed to pigs or composted). While this is actually pretty good by national standards, we have a lot of room for improvement considering that 40% of what we trash could also be composted and another 30% could be recycled. Residents definitely can pitch in by making sure they recycle at home and elsewhere, but another opportunity that is ripe for gleaning is business garbage. There are a lot of companies out there that do a great job recycling, but many others that simply have a single (read: trash) dumpster in the back.

By January 1, 2016, owners of commercial property in the seven-county metro area will need to make sure their buildings have recycling services along with garbage collection. A new law (Minn. Stat. 115A.151) passed by the legislature in 2014 applies to most commercial buildings that have service for 4 cubic yards (or more) of trash per week, and requires that a minimum of three material types be collected for recycling. Recyclables could include, but are not limited to paper, plastic, glass, metal, and organics (food scraps and compostable paper). Depending on the type of business, there may also be opportunities to recycle more unique materials such as textiles. Many businesses also have a good amount of clean plastic film from packaging and shipping that can be collected. If a business understands what it throws away (which surprisingly, many don’t) it will help determine what materials make the most sense to recycle.

Some businesses aren’t impacted, such as manufacturing and agriculture, but the law provides an opportunity for all businesses to consider ways to increase their recycling. Unlike many other aspects of running a business where spending is examined regularly, businesses frequently set up their disposal services and then rarely think about it again. However, with a 17 percent state tax on garbage, and sometimes an even higher fee assessed by the local county, trashing recyclables can be expensive. Minnesotans spend a good deal of money throwing away recyclable material every year, but they have great potential value to the economy – recycling directly and indirectly supports nearly 37,000 jobs, and the materials have a value of over $250 million. In addition, businesses are finding it is good for business to recycle – many customers want to know that the companies they support are committed to sustainable practices in their operations.

Implementing a successful recycling program can take work. Some businesses may need to make changes to accommodate recycling bins in the layout of their workplace, as well as on their loading docks. Similarly, helping staff learn how to properly participate in the program is essential to success, so a quality training program is a must. Many cities and counties offer assistance to business owners, sometimes in the form of financial support to set up new or improved collection systems. There are also several local resources for signage and education, including the Recycling Association of Minnesota and Rethink Recycling. All of these resources, and more, can be found on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Commercial Recycling page www.pca.state.mn.us/dyw6yry.


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