We started so well.
Minnesota was among the national leaders in recycling until leveling off a few years ago and declining in the last couple of years.
We need to do better.
By now, everyone should know the environmental benefits of recycling. Keeping things that can be reused out of landfills means less virgin materials need to be mined and fewer toxins are left to get into the soil and water.
But there are economic benefits as well. Slower landfill use costs taxpayers less and recycling creates a host of business that hire employees and pay taxes. In Iowa, where there is a container fee and recycling rates are much higher, an estimated $8 billion in added business has been created.
There are many ways to bolster recycling, and state lawmakers and local officials should refocus on improvement.
One of the biggest proposals at the Legislature is likely to be the most controversial: a container fee.
It would require a few cents’ deposit for beverage cans and bottles, which would be refunded when people return the containers. Some people may not like the idea of bringing empties back and beverage makers and stores often oppose the idea.
But the rate of recycling containers is dismal in Minnesota. One study showed the average household throws more than 400 aluminum cans and 400 plastic bottles in the trash every year. That’s a huge waste of materials that can easily be reused. In states with container fees, such as Iowa and Michigan, recycling of those items is double what it is in Minnesota.
More progress also needs to be made in recycling electronics. An e-waste bill passed in 2007 has helped by charging a fee to those who make and sell electronics with the money used for recycling programs. But it is still not easy enough or financially attractive enough for people to recycle electronic devices in high numbers.
Electronics contain an array of highly toxic metal compounds; keeping them out of landfills and reusing the materials in them needs to be a higher priority.
Cities and counties need to step up as well. More need to go to single-source recycling, which allows residents to put a variety of recyclable materials — including cans, bottles and paper — into one container for curbside pickup. The practice has shown to dramatically increase — often doubling — recycling levels.
Household recycling rates are far too low — ranging from about 12 to 30 percent depending on the city. Increasing those rates significantly is needed to combat waste.
And to that point, while laws and easier pickup can boost recycling, another element is key: Individuals must do better at taking the responsibility and making the effort to recycle as much as they can — from electronics and cans to clothing and food waste.