Solid waste planning

Hennepin County is a national leader in waste reduction and recycling. To identify strategies for increasing recycling and minimizing landfilling, the county develops the Hennepin County Solid Waste Management Master Plan. The plan is developed to manage solid waste in accordance with the Waste Management Act and as required by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The county also conducts research to support solid waste planning initiatives and produces an annual progress report with updates on achieving our recycling goals.

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Solid waste management master plan

The Hennepin County Solid Waste Management Master Plan (PDF) outlines strategies for increasing recycling and reducing landfilling through 2030.

Hennepin County is a national leader in waste reduction, recycling and composting, and the plan's top priority is to help residents and businesses reduce, reuse and recycle even more than they already do. The ability to meet plan objectives will be determined by the choices and behaviors of the county’s 1.2 million residents and thousands of businesses. Key strategies to meeting the goals include the following:

  • Standardizing collection methods and recyclables collected as well as expanding recycling opportunities at transfer stations and landfills.
  • Focusing on organics recycling and recycling at apartments, events and away-from-home venues.
  • Expanding the county's already extensive education and outreach efforts.
  • Offering technical assistance to businesses and encouraging product stewardship.
  • Supporting market development for recyclable materials.

The Waste Management Act

The plan is developed to manage solid waste in accordance with the state's Waste Management Act. The statute establishes a hierarchy for various waste management practices. These practices, in order of preference, are:

  1. Waste reduction and reuse
  2. Recycling
  3. Composting of yard waste and food waste
  4. Resource recovery, including waste-to-energy and composting
  5. Landfilling with methane recovery
  6. Landfilling without methane recovery

2016 waste sort study

Hennepin County conducted a waste sort to learn more about what residents are throwing away and what opportunities we are missing to recycle more.

The study involved sorting residential trash from Minneapolis into new categories to get better, more specific information about what could be recycled now but is not, and what opportunities need to be developed to increase recycling in the future. 

Key findings

  • Recycle organic waste: Recycling organic materials, which include food and compostable paper, is the biggest opportunity to reduce our trash. Organics make up about 25 percent of our trash, and not many people are participating in organics recycling programs yet.
  • Recycle more paper and cardboard: Residents are doing a pretty good job of recycling, but there are still opportunities to improve. The study found we could be recycling more paper and cardboard, and people are still confused about what plastics can be recycled. 
  • Use drop-off options: There are opportunities to improve recycling of materials that are not accepted in curbside recycling programs. Clothing ‭can be brought to donation centers for reuse and ‭recycling, plastic bags and film can be recycled at many ‭grocery and retail stores, and there are drop-off options ‭to recycle electronics, mattresses and scrap metal.
  • Focus on waste prevention: The study found that there’s still a lot of trash in the trash. Several materials in the top 10 list of items in the trash don’t have good reuse or recycling markets. This includes diapers, pet waste, non-recyclable plastic and paper, home improvement waste, and small items (those that are less than half an inch in size). ‬‬Reducing the amount of waste generated is the first place is the most impactful waste management practice, and there is considerable potential to improve waste prevention.

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Recycling progress report

The 2015 Recycling Progress Report (PDF) provides an update on progress being made to implement the Hennepin County Solid Waste Management Master Plan. 

Some highlights include:

  • In 2015, 82 percent of the waste generated in Hennepin County was diverted from landfills and reused, recycled, composted, or burned to create energy. This is a rate on par with national leaders.
  • The total amount of waste generated in Hennepin County decreased by 2.4 percent, or nearly 34,000 tons, in 2015 compared to 2014. The amount of waste generated per capita in the county has decreased by 20 percent since 2007 despite improvements in the economy. This is notable as historically a stronger economy and increases in employment have been correlated with more waste generation.
  • Recycling increased to 43 percent in 2015, a 2 percent increase compared to 2014. The 2015 results continue the trend of small but consistent annual increases since 2010, when the recycling rate was 38 percent. However, this is short of the 2015 goal.
  • Organics recycling remained at 3 percent in 2015. Two opposing trends underlie the overall organics recycling results with composting continuing to increase and food-to-animals continuing to decrease.
  • Trends in the waste management industry impact Hennepin County’s ability to meet its recycling goals. These trends include changes in the material mix with more plastic and less paper, packaging getting lighter, processing costs increasing and commodity prices falling. All of these trends that more and better recycling is required to maintain the same recycling rate.

Construction and demolition waste study

Hennepin County commissioned a study by Foth Infrastructure and Environment, LLC in 2015 to assess the capacity for diverting construction and demolition waste through recycling and reuse of materials. These materials include wood, concrete, cardboard, metals, asphalt shingles, sheetrock, vinyl siding, textiles, carpet, brick and more. 

The study found that more than 810,000 tons of construction and demolition materials were generated 2013, and 30 percent of those materials were recycled according to figures from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency cited in the study.

Key findings from the study include:

  • The price of construction and demolition landfilling is around $40 per ton in the metro area. Other studies have found that construction and demolition landfill disposal needs to be at least $50 per ton to incentivize higher diversion rates.
  • There is ample facility capacity in the metro area to collect and process more construction and demolition waste.
  • Diversion of high value and/or readily reusable residential building materials, including cabinets, fixtures and old growth wood, is generally not optimized, and a significant amount of these materials are being landfilled.
  • There is a lack of awareness about retail outlets for reused building materials. Physical space to store and sell these materials is one of several barriers to growth of this market.
  • Deconstruction, a technique that carefully dismantles a building to salvage materials for reuse, can divert up to 90% of the waste material generated from building removal. On large commercial projects, such as the Vikings stadium, materials are often removed for reuse or recycling. However, few contractors currently provide this service in the metro area for residential properties.  

Hennepin County will be using the findings of the study to determine actions that should be considered to realize opportunities to increase diversion of construction and demolition materials from landfills. 

See the Construction and Demolition Diversion Capacity Study (PDF) to learn more.  


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