Infrastructure & Environment

How Minneapolis Plans to Have Zero Waste

May 12, 2014

Imagine a city without garbage.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Minneapolis officials are taking early steps toward joining ­Seattle and San Francisco in becoming “zero waste” cities where just about every scrap of trash is recycled.

A public hearing to ban hard-to-recycle foam takeout containers is scheduled for Monday and City Hall is drafting a plan to pick up food scraps and other organic items from every home by next year, something several metro-area cities already do. And Mayor Betsy Hodges has hired the city’s first-ever zero-waste coordinator.

“This is about an aspiration,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. “It’s an important aspiration, but clearly one that we’re only a small part along the road toward.”

Minneapolis has a long way to go to catch up to the West Coast cities that have pioneered zero waste, meaning at least 90 percent of the garbage is recycled, composted or reused. Just 37 percent of its garbage is now recycled and composted, compared with 77 percent in San Francisco and 56 percent in Seattle — cities that require their citizens to do it.

San Francisco also has banned plastic shopping bags, a top contaminant in the ­recycling stream. Minneapolis has no proposal to do that yet, though officials are considering how to work with stores to offer more reusable bags. Some council members also want to require more recycling of construction debris as the city faces a development boom.

For now, the city wants to offer more education and outreach on recycling and composting before taking dramatic steps, like making recycling mandatory.

“Maybe down the line we need to get to some level like San Francisco … for right now the framework is not there,” said David Herberholz, Minneapolis’ director of solid waste and recycling.

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