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GreenStep City Best Practices Environmental Management

Solid Waste Reduction
no. 22

Increase waste reduction, reuse and recycling.

  Best Practice Actions    [See action tools, guidance, city reports]

  • Composting of organics avoids the 17% state tax, and the county fee (which can be as high as 53%), on garbage, incurs a smaller tipping fee, and prevents anaerobic digestion of organics from producing the potent greenhouse gas methane from slowly escaping landfills. There are also no taxes/fees on recyclables such as fibers and containers.
  • A systems-based, life-cycle accounting of greenhouse gas emissions in, for example, a city reveals that 42% of emissions result from materials management (which includes the extraction of natural resources, and production, transport and disposal of food and goods). This perspective shows the significant potential to cut energy use and emissions through reducing consumption, reusing materials, and recycling residues. See Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices (U.S. EPA: 2009), Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Recycling and Composting (U.S. EPA: 2011), and EPA's WARM (Waste Reduction Model) measurement tool.
  • The EPA's Food Waste Management Calculator estimates the cost competitiveness of alternatives to food waste disposal, including source reduction, donation, composting, and recycling of yellow grease.
  • The Recycle More Minnesota website summarizes the economic and environmental benefits of recycling, as well as provides links to where to recycle what across the state. For example, the economic activity associated with Minnesota's value-added recycling manufacturers comprises:
    • 37,000 total direct & indirect jobs in 2011 (a 69% direct job increase from 2004).
    • $8.5 billion in gross economic activity, $1.96 billion in wages, $272 million in state and local tax revenue.
    • $690 million: the worth of 'waste' material collected by Minnesota recycling programs.
  • See background information and data on the economic and environmental/climate benefits of waste reduction in the 2015 US Conference of Mayors' resolution in support of municipal zero waste principles and a hierarchy of materials management, and in the 2008 recommendations to the state legislature from the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group.
  • The U.S. Urban Sustainability Directors Network has been actively exploring sustainable consumption and shows how cities, in overtly addressing consumption issues, can achieve multiple benefits and enhance city sustainability efforts.
Optional for category A, B and C cities
Category C cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least one action.

Category B cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least one of actions 1 through 3, and at least one of actions 4 through 8.

Category A cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least action 1 or 2 and at least one of actions 4 through 8.
The dominant model for our society's use of materials is a linear "take, make, waste" one made possible by a half-century of plentiful, inexpensive energy and the assumption that throwing stuff "away" would have no ecological or financial consequences. The “waste” part, however, is larger than we think. As a rule of thumb, every ton of garbage at the consumer end of the materials management stream has also required the production of 5 tons of waste at the manufacturing stage and 20 tons of waste at the site of initial resource extraction (mining, pumping, logging, farming). During the 20th century the “taking and making” part (including food) increasingly happened outside city boundaries, but when accounted for in a city consumption-based greenhouse gas inventory, city GHG emissions end up being up to 40% larger than traditional intra-city GHG emissions.

A more energy- and resource-efficient, pollution-reducing urban metabolism model resulting in lower GHG emissions seeks first to prevent the generation of waste and then moves to a cyclical, biological approach whereby product and waste reuse and recycling is maximized and landfill disposal is minimized. In this emerging sustainable materials management model, products and wastes are designed to be reused, and either composted or recycled. The State of Minnesota’s legislatively adopted waste management hierarchy mirrors this emerging model, and the MPCA sees an important role for cities in promoting an ethic of sustainable consumption by community members.

greenstep advisor
Tim Farnan, Waste Prevention Specialist, MN Pollution Control Agency: 651/757-2348, timothy.farnan@state.mn.us, http://www.pca.state.mn.us/ktqh87d
connection to state Policy

  • State laws govern many aspects of solid waste disposal and vest responsibility at various governmental levels, especially at the county level. Public entities are required by statute to use the waste management hierarchy (reduce waste first, then attempt to reuse, then recycle and compost, and finally manage remaining materials through a waste-to-energy facility, and then landfill) and to recycle at least three materials. As with all GreenStep best practices, the action options in this best practice build on those seen implemented in Minnesota cities and go beyond state requirements.
  • The 2014 Legislature set 2030 recycling goals as follows: (1) 35% (by weight of total solid waste generation) for a county outside of the Twin Cities metro area, and (2) 75% (60% recycling and 15% organics) for a metropolitan county. Each county will develop and implement or require political subdivisions within the county to develop and implement programs, practices, or methods designed to meet its recycling goal.
  • 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. The 2014 law ( Minn. Stat. 115A.151 ) 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.