U facilities, local business ahead of new recycling law

Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation last month requiring all Minnesota businesses to recycle in the coming years.

Nicholas Studenski

As the state mandates a new recycling law, University of Minnesota and local business employees say their programs are already ahead of the curve.

Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation that will go into effect beginning in 2016, requiring all Minnesota businesses to recycle at least three different materials — with the exception of some manufacturers. University officials and campus-area businesses leaders say their operations already comply with the new regulations — some even going above and beyond.

University recycling coordinator Dana Donatucci said the school began an ambitious recycling program three decades ago and continues to make improvements to the program.

He said the institution consistently recycles 23 materials and has the capacity to recycle about a dozen more, even though the recently passed law requires only three.

“I guess we’re 32 years ahead,” he said, adding that the University’s recycling program was a model for some state programs.

The Minnesota Pollution Control agency set a goal in 2012 to increase the amount of waste composted or recovered in the state to a range between 9 and 15 percent by 2030.

Donatucci said the University currently recovers about 50 percent of organic waste, but it’s aiming to reach 70 to 80 percent in the future.

University athletics facilities already meet the new law’s requirement as well.

The University started working on a goal last year to make TCF Bank Stadium a zero-waste facility, which means more than 90 percent of the stadium’s waste would need to be recycled or compostable.

The stadium recovered about 82 percent of waste on average last year, Donatucci said, with one regular-season game reaching up to 88 percent.

“By the time this law is in place, we hope to be zero-waste,” he said.

The University’s zero-waste goal for the stadium accompanies a recent citywide push to eliminate waste.

Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey, who represents parts of the University area, emphasized the city’s long-term goal as important, but he noted that specific changes need to be made in the city’s waste disposal process, like increasing accessibility.

Dinkytown Business Association President Greg Pillsbury said he doesn’t think University-area businesses will struggle to comply with the recently passed law, as many already recycle glass and cardboard with private waste disposal companies.

“No one throws their cardboard in the garbage,” he said.

Still, Pillsbury said plastic recycling is not as widely offered and services should be more accessible before the law takes effect.

Pillsbury said city leaders should consider other modifications to waste management laws because some are too restrictive, specifically the recently passed ordinance banning polystyrene packaging beginning on Earth Day of 2015.

In general, making all packaging compostable can be difficult, Donatucci said, because some waste is out of the business operator’s direct control — like the wrapper of a candy bar.

Donatucci said to increase the amount of compostable packaging, the University works with different vendors to use more sustainable packaging.

In addition to using compostable containers, he said it’s also important to collect the waste in proper containers — an area where he said there is still room for improvement.

Donatucci said using sustainable containers isn’t helpful if they are thrown in with regular trash.

Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said one of the goals of the new law is to expand recycling facilities.

He said by requiring more businesses to recycle, more material is brought into the recycling stream.

In turn, this creates more business for recycling centers, he said, allowing them to expand coverage and make recycling easier.

“It helps the environment,” Gjerde said, “and it helps the economy.”