Best Practice

GreenStep City Best Practices: Environmental Management
Sustainable Consumption and Waste {BP No. 22}

Increase waste prevention, reuse and recycling, moving to a lower-consumption, more cyclical, biological approach to materials management.

Best Practice Actions

a. Education on needless consumption, waste prevention and alternatives, including product stewardship / producer responsibility.
b. Reuse options.
c. Recycling / composting options.
d. Credits, fees.
e. Mandates, bans.

Optional Best Practice for Step 3 Recognition

Category A cities: implement this best practice by completing action 1 or 2 and at least one of actions 4 through 8.

Category B cities: implement this best practice by completing any one of actions 1 through 3, and at least one of actions 4 through 8.

Category C cities: implement this best practice by completing any one action.

Optional Metric for Step 4 Recognition

Metric #13: Solid Waste


Cheap energy, mass-produced items, and a linear “take, make, waste” attitude has led us to believe that throwing stuff away would have minimal ecological or financial consequences. The “waste” part, however, is larger than we think. Every ton of garbage that we throw “away” generated about 5 tons of waste during its manufacture and 20 tons of waste at the site of 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, GHG emissions can end up being 40% larger than the "snow-globe" geographic-based GHG calculation. 

A more energy- and resource-efficient, pollution-reducing urban metabolism model resulting in lower GHG emissions seeks first to lower consumption (the quantity of bought stuff), prevent the generation of waste, and then moves to a cyclical, biological approach whereby product and waste reuse and recycling is optimized and landfill disposal/incineration 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.

Simple math shows that if the poorest 6.5 billion world residents consumed - as they strive to do - like Minnesotans, who are among the richest 1 billion - this equalized world consumption would be equivalent to a world population of nearly 80 billion people. While some optimists claim that Earth can support 9 - 11 billion people (Dec. 2018 population is 7.7B), no optimist claims that the world can support the equivalent of 80 billion people consuming in quantities and ways that Minnesotans do now. Cities can help residents understand this issue by promoting an ethic of "more fun, less stuff," the tagline of the non-profit New Dream.

Greenstep Advisor

Melissa Wenzel light skin, short dark brown hair, brown eyes, large smile. Wearing a blue shirt with bicycle images printed and a purple sweater.

Melissa Wenzel, Built Environment Sustainability Administrator, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 651/757-2251,

Connection to State Policy

  • Public entities are required by statute to recycle at least three materials, 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.
  • As of January 1, 2016, owners of commercial property in the seven-county metro area are required to make sure their buildings have recycling services along with garbage collection. The 2014 law (Minn. Stat. 115A.151 ) applies to most commercial buildings (including multifamily housing) 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.


Major Benefit

  • Composting of organics avoids the 9.75% (residential)/17% (commercial) Municipal Solid Waste state tax, the county fee (which can be as high as 53%), incurs a smaller tipping fee, and prevents anaerobic digestion of landfilled organics from producing and slowly releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. There are also no taxes/fees on recyclables such as fibers and containers.
  • GHG emissions (using a lifecycle and systems methodology) associated with waste, materials and products contributed 42% to the U.S. greenhouse gas inventory in 2006. This perspective shows the significant potential to cut energy use and emissions through reducing consumption (especially electronics), reusing materials, and recycling residues. See Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices (U.S. EPA: 2009) and EPA's WARM (Waste Reduction Model) measurement tool.
  • The EPA's Food Waste Management Calculator estimates the cost competitiveness and GHG-reduction potential of alternatives to food waste disposal, including buying only what gets eaten, donation, composting, and recycling of yellow grease.
  • The Recycle More Minnesota web pages summarize 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.
  • 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.
  • Towards A Circular Economy: Business Rationale for an Accelerated Transition (Ellen MacArthur Foundation: 2015) summarizes the conceptual and economic underpinning of the cradle-to-cradle thinking that is restorative and regenerative by design and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.