Business recycling

The commercial sector generates more than half of the total waste in Hennepin County, and nearly two-thirds of the waste created at businesses and non-profits is recyclable. A strong recycling program conserves natural resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, can help your bottom line and demonstrates your organization’s commitment to sustainability and the community.

Hennepin County offers grants, signage, and technical assistance to help businesses reduce waste and improve recycling. Information on how to comply with Ordinance 13 is posted below.

The following information refers to non-hazardous waste. For information on managing hazardous items from businesses, like electronics, fluorescent bulbs and other chemicals, visit the Hennepin County Managing and Disposing of Hazardous Waste site.

Business recycling program brochure (PDF)

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Recycling requirements for businesses

Hennepin County revised its recycling ordinance in November of 2018 to include new recycling requirements for businesses. Most businesses in Hennepin County are required to recycle.

Compliance requirements for businesses

See the how to comply guide (PDF) for step-by-step instructions.

1. Provide recycling service

Commercial building owners who contract for weekly collection of four or more cubic yards of trash must have single-sort recycling service or provide recycling service for at least three types of materials to their employees or tenants. For example: cardboard, cans, plastics, or less common materials specific to the business, such as textiles.

The building owner or whoever contracts for waste services must make sure service is provided and adequate for the recyclable material collected (and organics recycling material if offered). They will need to increase service levels if carts or dumpster are overflowing.

2. Pair recycling bins with trash bins

Wherever there is a trash container, place a recycling bin immediately next to the trash or close by it. The recycling bin must be large enough so it doesn’t overflow and result in recyclables being placed in the trash instead.

3. Label bins

Label each bin with the waste type to be collected (e.g. trash, recycling, cardboard). Labels must be color coded (blue for recycling and red, gray or black for trash) and include images and preparation instructions where applicable. Replace labels if they become unreadable or show items that are no longer accepted in that waste stream. Businesses must label internal recycling and trash containers. Your waste hauler is responsible for labeling the waste containers they provide to you.


The county will have the authority to inspect businesses and enforce these requirements, including the ability to issue warnings or citations for noncompliance.

The county provides resources to assist businesses in meeting these requirements.

  • Request assistance by submitting a business recycling request form.
  • Sign up for the Recycling at Work newsletter to receive quarterly updates on new resources and business stories.
  • Order free signs, labels, and guides
    Please note that due to efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Hennepin County is unable to fulfill orders of business recycling resources until further notice. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Please sign up for our Recycling at Work newsletter to stay informed about when these resources will be available again.

Assistance, signs, and recycling grants

Hennepin County provides funding and assistance for businesses and organizations to start or improve programs to divert recyclables and/or organics. Eligible recipients include for-profit businesses and organizations, including multifamily housing, and non-profit organizations. Grant activities must take place in Hennepin County.

Sign up for the Recycling at Work newsletter.

Request assistance

Our committed staff is ready to help you start or improve recycling at your business or organization. Free services include on-site assessments to determine your best options and necessary start-up steps and evaluation of potential costs and savings.

Request assistance by submitting a Business recycling request form.

Recycling signs

Order free recycling, organics recycling and trash signs. A variety of signs are available for spaces such as offices, cafeterias, commercial kitchens, public spaces and more. 

Funding options

Grant funding is available to start or improve waste reduction, recycling and organics recycling at businesses including non-profits and multifamily properties.

For application materials, submit a business recycling information online request form.

Review the 2020 Business recycling grant guidelines (PDF)

Reporting information for current grantees

Grantees are to submit a final report (for Container and Accelerated grant recipients) or both an interim report and a final report (for Competitive grant recipients). These reports provide crucial information for Hennepin County to evaluate and continue the program. Grant managers will provide templates to grantees.

See an example of a grant report (PDF) for more information.

Best practices and training resources

Mixed recycling and single-sort are used interchangeably. These terms refer to when materials like paper, cardboard, bottles, cans and cartons can all go in one container and get picked up by your hauler. Trash is always collected separately from mixed recycling, and mixed never means trash and recycling together. Call your hauler to learn what services they provide. For small quantities of mixed recyclables businesses can go to Hennepin County drop-off facilities.

Hennepin County has guides to help you assess your waste and develop a successful and sustainable recycling program. These guides include information and tips on things like assessing your current situation, identifying recyclable and compostable items in various areas throughout a business, developing an action plan, and setting up your program.

Assess your current recycling program and create an action plan using our Business Recycling Best Practices Guide (PDF)

Best practices

Best practices for recycling containers are:

  1. Color code waste containers and signage. Color coding makes it easier to quickly identify what the bin is meant for, and is an important part of an effective recycling program. Blue for recycling, grey or red for trash, and green for organics recycling.
  2. Place bins next to each other to create waste “stations”. This makes sorting waste easier and increases recycling by ensuring recycling is as accessible as trash.
  3. Place bins in centralized locations or the locations where the most waste is generated.

Training materials

Let your staff know more about recycling by posting information on intranet sites and sending out information in facility updates. Hennepin County works with recyclers to develop a guide that works for everyone. When you use the language in the templates and factsheet below you’re referencing a list of most commonly accepted materials.

Articles on recycling (DOCX)

Recycling guide (PDF)

Prevent waste

Waste reduction is the act of preventing waste from being generated in the first place. This can be as simple as using a reusable cup and washing it instead of using a disposable one, or working with suppliers to receive shipments in reusable transport containers instead of cardboard boxes.

You can also reduce hazardous waste by making substitutions for less-hazardous products. If you’d like help with this, contact the Hennepin County hazardous waste inspectors.

Start small

Even if your organization is not ready to establish a team and set new policies, there are small actions that are simple and require minimal approval to complete.

Some examples to reduce paper waste are include:

  • Set printers to default to double-sided printing.
  • Reuse mail envelopes and boxes as often as you can.
  • Set printers to default to black and white printing and encourage staff to only print in color when needed.
  • Invest in a printer management system that allows staff to cancel printing requests at the printer.
  • Make reusable, washable dishes available for staff instead of paper disposables.

Create an initiative

There are eight steps to creating an initiative to prevent waste at work. It’s important to gather information and build a team.

  1. Get management support on authorizing your work and develop a mission statement.
  2. Organize a team (this may not be your green team). It is important to get key stakeholders involved in this work, not only those who are personally interested in the topic.
  3. Select a facilitator to keep work organized and on track.
  4. Educate the entire business, from stating the mission to updating staff on final goals and progress.
  5. Collect information, brainstorm solutions, and get feedback – can you reduce toxicity, prevent single use items, switch or promote to reusable options, change purchasing policies, etc.

Start by evaluating your current system. Quantify your inbound waste to inform supply chain decision making and prevent waste: Inbound Waste Inventory (XLSX)

  1. Evaluate each idea based on cost, feasibility, and impact.
  2. Implement the most promising ideas and track metrics (tonnage of waste streams, cost savings, etc.)
  3. Continue the program and fine-tune to ensure compliance.

Learn more from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s report: Source Reduction Now (PDF).

Reduction methods

Resource management contracts

Talk to your waste contractor about resource management programs. This will require contracting in a new way with waste contractors that bases compensation on their ability to help your organization accomplish its waste reduction goals rather than the traditional volume of waste disposed. Learn more about this: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Reduce transport packaging waste

Cardboard continues to increase in the waste stream, and transport packaging continues to be a significant portion of waste from the business sector. Cardboard is recyclable, but not a necessary part of our transportation system. There are ways to prevent this waste in the first place. Using reusable transport packaging that is wood, metal or plastic can mean using these items for years until they must be disposed of due to wear-and-tear.

Reusable transport packaging is used by leaders in major production and distribution sectors and saves them money by eliminating the purchase and disposal of single use packaging like cardboard boxes and plastic shrink wrap. Some bulky products require this type of packaging due to shock, vibration and abrasion during the shipping process. Reusable transport packaging works when a business:

  • Has a closed or managed loop shipping system with a vendor or when multiple vendors can use the same packaging and can create a regular pick-up of empty containers
  • Has a constant flow of products in a large volume that allows for reusable transport packaging

How to start

  1. Identify potential products that are frequently shipped in large volume and are consistent in type, size, shape and weight.
  2. Estimate the current costs of using one-time or limited-use packaging. Include the costs to purchase, store, handle and dispose of this packaging and the costs of any ergonomic and work safety limitations.
  3. Develop a geographical report by identifying shipping and delivery points. Evaluate the use of daily and weekly "milk runs" (small, daily truck routes) and consolidation centers (loading docks used to sort, clean and stage reusable transport packaging). Focus on opportunities to implement just-in-time delivery strategies.
  4. Review reusable transport packaging options and costs by investigating the various types of packaging and systems available to move them through the supply chain.
  5. Estimate the cost of reverse logistics (defined below) based on the shipping and delivery points identified in the geographical report.
  6. Develop a preliminary cost comparison between one-time or limited-use transport packaging and reusable transport packaging. If the preliminary cost comparison indicates that a reusable transport packaging system will save money, a company may want to seek outside assistance to design and implement a reusable transport packaging system.

California has a website for businesses to learn more: Use Reusables.

Sustainable purchasing

Sustainable purchasing is one of the best ways your organization can demonstrate to employees and others that sustainability and the environment are important parts of your organization’s mission. By adopting policies that set purchasing requirements you can establish the environmental, economic and social expectations of the products and services your organizations buys. Some quick examples are switching to 100% post-consumer recycled content paper or buying only fair trade coffee for cafés and coffee stations. To accomplish this, an organization will need to set up governance structures to manage purchasing of products and services at the organization, assess, review and prioritize what products to approve, to establish a policy and action plan, and to implement the new or revised sustainable purchasing program. Learn more at Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s website.

Best practices for grocers

An environmental practices inventory was completed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Grocers Association and the Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota. This report can help grocers understand environmentally related practices and resources to reduce their environmental impact. Read the report (PDF).

Assistance programs

The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program is a leading Minnesota resource for best practices information. Technical specialists focus by sector to better understand specific industry challenges: the processes, wastes and regulations. MnTAP works to turn those challenges into cost-saving opportunities by offering tailored solutions. MnTAP works with Minnesota manufacturers and industrial service businesses that generate hazardous waste, with technical assistance that includes site visits, an intern program, and information by phone or the web. Learn more about MnTap.

Use the Minnesota Materials Exchange to donate your used materials and equipment to reduce the cost of disposal and receive tax benefits for donated items in usable or working condition.

Organics recycling and wasted food

Businesses can play a significant role in preventing and reducing wasted food.

Learn more about food waste recycling requirements, food donation, and resources to start or improve organics recycling programs on our business organics page.

Looking to be paired with a food to people donation program? Submit a business recycling request form to us..

The Business Recycling Best Practices Guide (PDF) will help your business implement a successful and sustainable recycling program. The guide includes information and tips on things like assessing your current situation, identifying the items accepted for recycling and organics recycling in various areas throughout a business, developing an action plan, and setting up your program.

Get recognized for your recycling efforts

The Hennepin County Environmental Partners program recognizes businesses for their efforts to recycle and divert organic waste, which includes food scraps and non-recyclable paper, from the trash through composting, sending food scraps to local farmers to feed animals, or by donating edible food.

Learn more about participating businesses and how your business can get recognized.

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