Moving toward a zero-waste Mpls


With the launch of a citywide organics recycling program on the horizon, city leaders are setting their environmental goals even higher with a push toward a zero-waste Minneapolis.

Mayor Betsy Hodges has hired Stephanie Zawistowski, a new sustainability policy aide, to spearhead efforts to craft a zero-waste plan in collaboration with the Public Works Department and City Council. She has worked at Best Buy as a senior analyst for the retailer’s Environmental Management System.

“Things are teed up for going citywide for organics recycling and I want to make sure we get there,” Hodges said in a recent interview. “Much of our waste stream could be recycled or reused in one way or another. [Zero-waste] is about moving toward a world where we really do that. It is about reducing how much we use non-recyclable or hard to recycle materials. It’s focusing on repurposing as well.”

Hennepin County has set a Jan. 1, 2015 deadline for Minneapolis to implement a new organics recycling program — a challenging task for city leaders to achieve. As of now, eight neighborhoods are participating in a pilot organics recycling program.

Statewide, about 30 percent of the waste stream is organics, according to a recent report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Hodges held a press conference outside the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) on the campaign trail this summer to promote her vision for a zero-waste Minneapolis. Such a policy would make the need for the county’s garbage burner obsolete, she said.

While the city’s new single-sort recycling program has boosted the city’s recycling rate, there’s still a long way to go to get more people on board. Recycling increased by about 58 percent during the first month of the citywide one-sort rollout, according to a report prepared by the city’s Solid Waste and Recycling Division in November 2013. The recycling rate is about 24.4 percent with the one-sort system and the city is on track to double the amount of recyclables collected to about 36,000 tons per year by 2015. The city has a goal of reaching a 35 percent recycling rate by 2017.

City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) said Minneapolis has some catching up to do on recycling rates compared to other cities.

“Zero waste is one of these aspirational terms, and we really have a lot of work to do,” she said.

While single-sort is helping move the dial in the right direction, more community outreach needs to be done to encourage residents and businesses to get on board, she said. The city also needs to be more strategic about reaching out to commercial and multi-unit properties, which often lag behind in recycling.

Construction waste is another big issue, she noted.

City Council Member Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) has also raised concerns about the amount of residential construction waste ending up in landfills during discussions about the teardown issue in southwest Minneapolis.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-61A) has pushed for legislation requiring metropolitan counties to reach a recycling rate of 75 percent by 2030. He’s also advocated increasing funding for county recycling programs by $7 million.

He said Minneapolis is going to need more resources to put the citywide curbside composting program into action.

Commercial property owners also need to step-up recycling efforts. While some Minneapolis restaurateurs have been early adopters of composting, many more need to get on the bandwagon.

“We’re literally throwing out $200 million a year in the state of Minnesota,” he said. “That’s how much the recyclables we throw out are worth. Why would you throw something of value into the garbage and have it wind up in the incinerator or landfill? This is worth something.”

Shalini Gupta, executive director of the Center for Earth Energy & Democracy, a Minneapolis-based organization, said the zero-waste initiative could be a great opportunity for small businesses in the city and a job creator. She said the benefits of the burgeoning green economy should be equitable and not just serve largely white and wealthy neighborhoods. Low-income neighborhoods with large minority populations have been disproportionately impacted by the waste industry, she said. 

“Communities burdened by the [county] incinerator should get the benefits of organics recycling,” she said. 

Felicity Britton, executive director of Linden Hills Power and Light, a neighborhood-based organization that promotes sustainable energy and waste reduction, said she would like to see the City Council adopt a resolution similar to the one adopted by the St. Paul City Council, which calls for a 80 percent solid waste reduction by 2030.

Britton said she is excited to see so many city leaders on board with a zero-waste vision. To get more traction in the neighborhoods, she’d like to see more community outreach to share information about the impact of composting. 

Linden Hills Power and Light has trained compost captains to educate people about organics recycling. The neighborhood now has more than 1,400 residents participating in the program, which diverts on average, about 5 tons of organics per week from the waste stream.

Setting up an organics recycling program is a pretty simple process, she said. Apartment and condo buildings can contract with Eureka Recycling or Randy’s Sanitation.

“The just have to have the will and make the switch. It’s really super easy for them,” she said. 

Curt Gunsbury, owner of Minneapolis-based Solhelm Companies, offers organics recycling at all seven of his apartment developments in the city. He started contracting with Randy’s Sanitation five years ago.

Residents can toss compostable materials down a trash chute. 

“It’s very popular with our residents,” he said. 

Overall, the recycling rate at the Solhelm properties is on the rise, he said. About 50 percent of the waste is recycled with organics making up 10 to 20 percent of the recyclable materials.

Minneapolis leaders are also taking cues from other cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Austin, which have adopted zero-waste policies. 

San Francisco, for instance, has set a goal of reaching zero waste by 2020. City leaders recently voted to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on public property. Since launching its zero waste efforts in 1990, it has reduced the amount of materials it sends to the landfill by 80 percent.

Reach Sarah McKenzie at or follow on Twitter @smckenzie21