Action: How Can We Reduce Waste?

There were several focal points at the November 2015 “Sustainable We” forum that lend themselves to action steps Minneapolis residents can take to reduce waste.

1. Think About Your Buying Habits

Recognize that waste is less about what you throw in the trash and more about what you buy. See this story for more on that conversation. As you can see in these two Minnesota Pollution Control Agency graphs, offered at the event by Madalyn Cioci, it is the materials extraction, manufacturing and distribution that have the most impact on resource use.


MPCAMplsCarbonProducersCioci’s handout suggested:

  • Make at least one systematic change in your consumption patterns. Anything from not upgrading phones automatically to getting off catalogue lists to eating less meat.
  • Give with intention: This Holiday season, give experiences, services, or repurposed/secondhand items as gifts.

2. Reduce Plastics

There are two particularly wasteful products that we talked about. One is plastics.

Although Green Divas doesn’t cite the source of information, this is a collection of some of their factoids about plastic consumption:

  • Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  • 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
  • We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
  • The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
  • The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production.
  • It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

How Can You Reduce Your Plastic Use?

If you must use plastic, try to choose #1 or #2, which are the most commonly recycled plastics. Avoid plastic bags and polystyrene foam as both typically have very low recycling rates.

This fact sheet from the Recycling Association of Minnesota offers insight about what happens to Minnesota plastics that are recycled.

Green Divas compiled a great list, including the basics:

  • Bring reusable shopping bags to the store;
  • Stop buying water and sandwich bags, and replace with reusable lunch bag/box and bottle;
  • Make the effort to use a to-go mug at the coffee shop, and other places that use lids and plastic cups;
  • Embrace digital music and videos, and other new forms of products that are not plastic. (We update the Facebook MPLS Green page with news items of other products that are more friendly to waste reduction.)
  • Spread the word. Tell others why it is important to reduce plastic proliferation and pollution. (In my personal case, all it took a few years ago was for a friend to mention how much is wasted by the plastic water bottle drinks I was buying, and I did the rest to cut that out of our regular lifestyle.)

Different types of bags have a different environmental impact relating to global warming, Cioci said. [Partly because of production costs] A paper bag would have to be reused three times to prevent it from having more of an environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag, while a regular cotton bag would have to be used 131 times to prevent it from having more of an impact than using a plastic bag. A bag made out of polypropylene, a material used in some reusable bags, would have to be reused 11 times for a similar environmental impact.

City Council leader Cam Gordon has been researching options at the Minneapolis level.

In Dallas and Washington, D.C., shoppers pay 5 cents for both paper and plastic bags. In Chicago, big-box retailers and chain stores with at least three locations are prohibited from using plastic bags. Cities that have outlawed plastic bags include:

  • San Francisco 2007
  • Portland, Ore. 2011
  • Austin, Texas 2013
  • Los Angeles 2014
  • Santa Fe, N.M. 2014
  • Honolulu 2015
  • Cambridge, Mass. 2015

Source: Star Tribune research

3. Be Aware of Textile Waste

According to a Recycle Nation article:

  • Eighty-five percent of clothing gets thrown out and ends up in a landfill. The decomposition process releases greenhouse gases.
  • The U.S. generates about 25 billion pounds of textiles each year, or 82 pounds per U.S. resident.
  • The 15 percent of clothing that gets donated or recycled amounts for 3.8 billion pounds, or 12 pounds per person, while 21 billion pounds become textile waste.
  • Between 1999 and 2009, post-consumer textile waste grew by 40 percent, while the diversion rate only went up by 2 percent.
  • World Bank reports that 17-20 percent of industrial water pollution is from textile treatment and dyeing.

Minneapolis-area residents diverted more than 10 million pounds of clothing and shoes from landfills in 2012, said textile recycler USAgain. That amounted to 2,290 garbage trucks of clothing — and a reduction of more than 70 million pounds of carbon emissions.

One local source that collects textiles for recycling, among other things, is 1-800-GOT-JUNK. Re-use through Goodwill and other thrift/consignment shops is also a plentiful option in Minneapolis.

Other textile recycling options:

4. Deconstruction Ideas

If you are aware of a house teardown/renovation project, share this tidbit: Wayne Gjerde of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has said that more than 1.7 million tons of construction and demolition waste in Minnesota ends up in landfills every year.

According to a Star-Tribune article, some new uses for these materials — instead of sending into the landfill:

  • Unpainted wood can be turned into mulch or animal bedding.
  • Leftover drywall can also be transformed into animal bedding or a pH balancing additive for soil.
  • Shingles can be stripped of their asphalt and used to build new roads.
  • Concrete is crushed and used as a base for roads.

MPLSGreen wrote about local deconstruction efforts here.

5. Fix It!

Hennepin County offers great fix-it clinics, so that broken items can be repaired and re-used instead of replaced. Next up:

Saturday, December 12, noon to 4 p.m.
Maple Grove Community Center, 12951 Weaver Lake Road

Saturday, January 9, noon to 4 p.m
Armatage Rec Center, 2500 W 57th Street, Minneapolis

Saturday, February 13, noon to 4 p.m.
Waite Park, 1810 34th Avenue NE, Minneapolis

Saturday, March 12, noon to 4 p.m.
Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (IOCP), 1605 County Road 101 N, Plymouth

Saturday, April 23, noon to 4 p.m.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rec Center, 4055 Nicollet Avenue S, Minneapolis

Saturday, May 14, noon to 4 p.m.
Gramercy Park Cooperative, 6711 Lake Shore Drive, Richfield

Saturday, June 11, noon to 4 p.m.
Crystal Community Center, 4800 Douglas Drive N, Crystal


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