See more of the story

A new state plan to curb a growing glut of garbage calls for metro counties to collect recycling weekly, most cities to provide curbside organics recycling and restaurants to switch to reusable plates and cups.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) officials revealed the draft plan for managing Twin Cities waste Wednesday at Bridging, a nonprofit in Roseville that provides gently used furniture and household items to those in need.

"Nonprofits like Bridging demonstrate the right way to think about the life cycle of our goods," said Kirk Koudelka, the MPCA's assistant commissioner for land policy and strategic initiatives, gesturing at the warehouse filled with couches and dining room tables.

The MPCA plan restates the Legislature's goal of recycling 75% of Minnesota's trash by 2030, with just 5% going to landfills. The remaining 20% would go to waste-to-energy facilities.

But the trends are going in the wrong direction, with Twin Cities recycling rates stagnating or dropping, Koudelka said.

The seven-county metro area recycles about 45% of its waste, including composting, better than many metro areas, but still far from meeting the goal in state law.

The MPCA creates a plan every six years, and county officials in turn use it to create their own plan. They then submit that plan for state approval.

The agency's draft plan includes 70 strategies for reducing, reusing and recycling.

Koudelka said the state is looking for residents' feedback on the plan through the end of the summer. Then officials will respond to all comments and may incorporate some of them into the final plan.

Convenience is key

The Twin Cities area produces 3.3 million tons of municipal solid waste each year, and that number is expected to increase to 3.92 million tons by 2042, according to the plan.

"We must make recycling and composting as convenient ... as possible," Koudelka said, mentioning the goals of increasing the availability of curbside composting and picking up recyclables every week.

The plan would require counties to offer grants or rebates to restaurants and other institutions to switch to reusable plates and cups.

While it emphasizes recycling, the draft plan also urges people to repair and reuse items instead of throwing them out.

"There are things we can do that are actually better than recycling and we forget about those sometimes," said Peder Sandhei, a principal planner for the MPCA.

Sandhei said the draft plan includes a section on managing wood waste, a new area of focus for the MPCA. Counties now must create a plan for discarded wood, much of it resulting from the onslaught of trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer.

Sandhei compared the tree disease to a pandemic.

"One of the biggest priorities I see is we need to do a better job of educating people on what to do with ash trees on their property," he said.

The plan suggests that counties promote existing programs that use wood from trees infected by the emerald ash borer to make furniture and other products, along with supporting composting and mulching.

The draft plan also mentions the goal of reducing food waste, which can save people money, too, Sandhei said.

"Preventing wasted food is one of the biggest ways that everyday Minnesotans can mitigate climate change," the plan states. Reducing one ton of food waste saves 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions than composting the same amount of discarded food.

Diana Dalsin, Bridging's director of strategic partnerships, said the nonprofit helps about 100 families a week by reusing household items that might otherwise have been thrown away.

That's 12 semi trucks coming and going each week filled with furniture and other goods, she said.

"We've got to make sure that we think creatively, and we make sure those good, usable items are pit-stopping somewhere before they hit the landfill," she said.