Minnesota residents have long taken pride in our environmental stewardship and our willingness to reduce, reuse and recycle. But a recent report says we’re not doing so well.
In fact, the amount of recycling we do has declined in the last 12 years and the amount of waste we’re pouring into the environment has grown. A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report released Monday shows the amount of organic waste Minnesota residents and companies are putting into the environment grew to 31 percent of the waste stream, an increase of 21 percent.
The amount of plastic we are throwing away is now at 18 percent of the waste stream, compared to just 11 percent 10 years ago. Officials say the report is a wake-up call and somewhat alarming. As recycling has been made easier over the last 10 years, the expectation would be that we recycle more and waste less.
The figures are staggering. Through an audit of six waste handling facilities across the state, researchers sorted trash by hand into 50 categories. The report estimates Minnesotans threw out 21,000 tons of recyclable plastic beverage containers and 12,000 tons of aluminum cans, which would average about 3.6 million per day. And while paper recycling was down 34 percent to 24 percent of the waste stream, residents still threw out 543,000 tons of paper that could have been recycled.
Officials note that there is a cost to these figures. The recyclable material that is going to waste facilities each year represents about 1 million tons and is worth about $217 million, said Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development coordinator for the MPCA.
Clearly, recycling can be impacted simply by people making a conscious effort to do it. Recently, North Mankato and other cities have been making recycling easier for residents. Many have adopted single-sort recycling that allows residents to put all recyclables into one container.
The numbers suggest we are increasing recyclables in our waste stream at a time when more and more things can be recycled. Waste Management’s options for residents of Blue Earth County expanded the types of recyclables it would take within the last few years.
Minnesotans have long held dear the environment of our beautiful state. Recycling is one small and easy thing we can do to keep it that way.