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History of Minnesota Waste Management Practices

Solid Waste Management in Minnesota has been under almost constant change since the early 1970’s when it became apparent that waste management practices were contaminating water. Since that time, legislation has been enacted at the federal and state levels that have reduced reliance on landfills as the only waste management method, while also changing landfill construction and operating practices to reduce the potential for environmental problems related to managing waste. Minnesota entered its current phase of waste management in 1980 with passage of the Waste Management Act (WMA) (Mn.Stat.115A). The WMA established significant roles for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), as well as significant responsibilities for counties to further State waste management goals.

Waste management in Minnesota is significantly driven by the waste management hierarchy, (Mn. Stat. 115A.02) which is as follows (in order of preference):
  1. Waste reduction and reuse
  2. Recycling
  3. Composting
  4. Resource recovery through incineration (waste to energy) or mixed municipal solid waste composting
  5. Land disposal which produces no measurable methane gas or which involves the retrieval of methane gas as a fuel for the production of energy to be used on-site or for sale
  6. Land disposal, which produces measurable methane and which does not involve the retrieval of methane gas as a fuel for the production of energy to be used on-site or for sale 

 The Twin Cities metropolitan area (TCMA) solid waste system is the result of planning and development that began with the 1980 WMA. Since 1980, much has been accomplished.

    • The TCMA recycles 41 percent of the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), an almost three-fold increase since 1980 (based on a statewide average recycling rate at that time). Recycling contributes to the economy of the region.
    • Waste to energy facilities manage 28 percent of the MSW generated - creating enough energy for 92,000 households.
    • Problem materials such as major appliances, mercury containing products, and electronic waste are banned from the MSW stream, and infectious wastes are managed separately. 
    • A system to collect and manage household hazardous waste is available to all residents, regardless of county of residence. 

It’s difficult to compare Minnesota and the TCMA to other regions in the country, since state goals and measurement are generally different.  Despite the accomplishments in the last ten years, TCMA MSW generation grew by eight percent and the region’s solid waste system struggled. 

    • Recycling has not increased enough to keep up with the MSW generation increase.
    • The use of resource recovery capacity declined by 15 percent.
    • Land disposal increased by 15 percent.

Metropolitan Solid Waste Management Policy Plan 2010-2030 
Fact Sheet




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