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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 county's page on managing and disposing of hazardous waste.

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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.

Enforcement

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.

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.

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

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

Funding options

Bin and compostable bag grants

The county is providing free resources and assistance for small businesses, multifamily properties, and non-profit organizations to start or improve recycling and organics recycling. Applicants may select up to $3,000 worth of containers and compostable bags from the county's product list.

To apply:

  1. Review the 2021 Business recycling bin and compostable bag grant guidelines (PDF)
  2. For application materials, submit a business recycling information online request form.

Waste prevention grants

Hennepin County has created a new grant program to fund projects that prevent waste in the business sector. Areas of focus include replacing disposables with reusables, food waste prevention and innovative projects around research and development (to prevent waste). This year $300,000 is available for business waste prevention grants. To apply:

  1. Review the 2021 waste prevention grants guidelines (PDF)
  2. For application materials, submit a business recycling information online request form.

Waste prevention project examples

Review these project examples to see how waste prevention grant funding could be used at your business. 

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.

The following information and 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 by using the following best practices. 

Develop your action plan

Determine what containers you need

Think about the places in your building where waste is discarded. Make sure that there are enough recycling bins to match the number of trash bins, and that high-traffic areas contain enough recycling bins and not just trash bins.

Assess your hauling service

Find out how much you’re paying for waste service by looking at your waste bill. If a third party handles the billing for your waste, ask them for the trash and recycling information.

  1. Get quotes: Call your waste hauler for quotes on adding recycling and/or organics recycling service. Request quotes from at least two other haulers to compare prices.
  2. Determine what outdoor containers you need: Ask what types and sizes of outdoor containers the hauler offers (e.g., carts or dumpsters) and their frequency of pick-up to determine if their containers and service frequency meet your business’ needs. Look at the contents of your indoor trash containers. Do you think you can divert a lot of your trash toward recycling and/or organics recycling? If so, ask your waste hauler about downsizing your trash dumpster or reducing the frequency of pickups to save money.

Get management support

Report your recommendation to your manager or building owner to make sure they’re on board. Point out that recycling demonstrates your business’ commitment to environmental stewardship and the community. Also, let them know that you may be able to reduce trash hauling service. Finally, make them aware that there are free resources, such as grants for containers, signage and educational materials, and assistance available from Hennepin County.  

Consult with cleaning staff

Cleaning staff are key players in the success of your recycling program because they’re responsible for getting the recycling and waste out of the building and into the proper containers for pick-up.

Setting up your program

Make recycling convenient

Create sorting areas by placing recycling, trash and organics containers next to one another. Set up sorting stations where waste is generated and where there is heavy traffic.

Put a recycling bin by the mailboxes and copy machine so it’s convenient for people when sorting their mail and making copies.

Make recycling easy

  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.

Kick off your program

Gaining support and buy-in from everyone in your business is crucial to the success of your recycling program. Train your staff to make sure that everyone knows what can and cannot be recycled and to ensure that recyclables and organics are sorted, collected and stored properly. Plan training or a kick-off event. Plan a short monitoring period to ensure people are sorting correctly. Have someone available to answer questions. Train cleaning staff and make sure everyone knows which containers and bags to use.

Let your staff know more about recycling by posting information on intranet sites and sending out information in facility updates. Use these example articles and recycling guide to help spread the word. 

Articles on recycling (DOCX)

Recycling guide (PDF)

Promote your program

Promoting your program to employees and customers is critical to ongoing success. Some methods can include creating a competition between floors or departments to see who can improve recycling the most, forming a green team and conducting waste assessments. Let your business’s clients know about the program as well. Many customers take sustainability into account when choosing where to do business. 

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 waste include:

  • Adopt green purchasing policies, such as selecting products that are less toxic, conserve energy or water, or use recycled-content materials.

  • Reduce packaging waste by buying supplies in bulk and using reusable shipping containers.

  • Host green meetings.
  • Choose non-hazardous or less-hazardous cleaning products and use reusable towels and rags.

  • Evaluate your company’s processes to identify ways to use raw materials more efficiently and use less-hazardous alternatives.

  • 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. 

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.

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

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.

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