News: Food waste tops results from Hennepin County’s waste sort study

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Ben Knudson, Environment and Energy, 612-596-1176.

Maria Elena Baca, Communications, 612-348-7865

Sorting out our waste problem: Insights from Hennepin County’s waste sort study

Food, other organics were a quarter of the trash 

Our best opportunities to increase recycling and reduce our trash are increasing organics recycling and preventing food waste, recycling more paper and cardboard, and increasing recycling of materials at drop-off locations. These are the recently released findings of a waste study conducted earlier this year.

Food is the most prevalent material in the trash by far. Steps you can take to reduce food waste include using up all of the food that you buy, practicing meal planning, understanding the date labels on food, and properly storing your food. As we enter the holiday season, residents can use holiday parties and dinners as an opportunity to learn about preventing the waste of food and other organics. Find resources at

Study identified opportunities to increase recycling

The waste 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 to identify opportunities to increase recycling in the future. 

The study identified some clear opportunities to increase recycling:

  • Recycle organic waste: Food and compostable paper made up about 25 percent of the trash in the study. Diverting these materials to recycling is the biggest opportunity to reduce our trash. 
  • Recycle more paper and cardboard: Only 14 percent of the trash was materials that could have been recycled, but the study found that we could be recycling more paper and cardboard. 
  • Use drop-off options: Materials that can be recycled – just not in curbside recycling programs – made  up about 7 percent of the trash. 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. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬For information about what can be discarded where, visit

Focusing on waste prevention

The study also 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. They include 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 that residents generate in the first place is the most impactful waste management practice. From using reuseables to avoiding single-use, disposable items, to buying used items, there’s plenty we can to do create less waste. 

Planning for progress

‭In 2015, 46 percent of waste generated in Hennepin County was diverted to recycling or organics recycling. Although recycling has increased steadily over the past five years, there’s still a lot more we can do to increase recycling and reduce waste.‬‬‬‬‬

In 2017, Hennepin County will develop a solid waste master plan ‭in response to the Minnesota ‭Pollution Control Agency’s Metropolitan Solid Waste Management ‭Master Policy Plan. ‭Together, these plans will provide statewide and county-‭specific strategies to meet 2020 goals and lay the foundation for ‭achieving a long-term vision. The data from this waste sort, along with an extensive public engagement process, will inform the development of the county’s master plan.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Find a fact sheet, summary and full report at

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