Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom. This editorial was written on behalf of the board by Star Tribune Opinion intern Noor Adwan, a 2023 graduate of the University of Minnesota.
The Twin Cities is full of trash, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) wants your input on how to manage it.
The metro produces about 3.3 millions tons of waste every year — a volume that's brought our landfills nearly to capacity — and the MPCA expects that number to rise in the coming years. More than half of that waste goes to landfills or waste-to-energy facilities, and about 45% is recycled. But while the Twin Cities' recycling rate is higher than the national average, it's been stagnant in recent years — a discouraging trend given the goal set by the Legislature in 2014 that, by 2030, metro counties should recycle 75% of their waste.
That's why in June the agency released a draft of its Metropolitan Solid Waste Policy Plan, an ambitious document detailing 70 policy recommendations to improve waste management in the metro over the next 20 years.
"We want to make sure that we are empowering counties to work with their residents and businesses to set up systems that meet their goals, meet the state's goal and build jobs. And I think all of those things are possible through the menu of options that are proposed here," MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler told an editorial writer.
The agency's recommendations for the seven-county metro area include collecting recycling weekly by 2025, offering curbside compost collection, mandating consumer charges for single-use containers and utensils, and establishing grants for business initiatives to reduce food waste or switch to reusable containers. While many of the plan's policies will be required, counties will be able to mix and match a number of optional policies to best suit their residents' needs.
"Two-thirds of what we throw away into a waste-to-energy facility or landfill can be recycled or reused," MPCA Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka told an editorial writer. "So we can make a difference, we just have to make changes."
The plan is in its final stages, and the MPCA encourages metro residents to offer their thoughts before the public comment period closes on Sept. 17. Once it ends, the MPCA will likely take until the end of the year to fine-tune technical aspects of the plan based on public input and recommendations from county leaders. Koudelka said he does not anticipate any major roadblocks. Once the plan is finalized, counties will have nine months to develop their strategies before beginning to roll out changes.
Increasing recycling and reuse rates would have positive environmental and health impacts by reducing waste sent to landfills, which pollute air, soil and water while releasing greenhouse gases like methane. It could also benefit the state economy by creating jobs in reuse, repair and recycling. In 2021, Minnesotans threw out about a million tons of material that could have been recycled, Koudelka said. "That's $143 million worth of material that could have been turned in other products, or just over 15,000 jobs."
Given the wide-ranging benefits of waste reduction, the MPCA's effort is both laudable and necessary. And some metro residents have already written in to share their support of some of the draft plan's policies, like curbside compost and weekly recycling pickup. It's unsurprising that those two elements have gained considerable attention, as they would take the wise step of eliminating barriers to metro residents making smart decisions with their waste.
"I currently try to recycle my organic in the bags provided by the county, but find it inconvenient to have to haul my own waste to a special site. There is an option to have our garbage company take away our organics, but with an extra fee attached to an already rising bill," wrote one commenter. "I can see why others aren't as quick to do their part for the environment with inconvenience and added costs."
With a goal as ambitious as 75% of waste being recycled by 2030, the metro needs an equally ambitious plan to buck the trend of stagnant — or in some counties, declining — recycling rates. The draft Metropolitan Solid Waste Policy Plan is promising, and could be made better with your comments. Waste management impacts everyone in the metro, so it's important that a wide range of residents share their thoughts.