Minneapolis saw a 25 percent increase in recycling when it finally made the switch to single-sort bins in 2013. Lazy people no longer had an excuse to just throw everything away. One bin for garbage, one for recycling. It's simple.
When St. Paul made the switch to single-sort, however, recycling rates plummeted. How in the world does that happen?
The city's Anne Hunt says there's a bunch of reasons behind the problem. First, Minneapolis shifted from a six-sort system (residents used to have to separate their recycling six[!] different ways) while St. Paul shifted from a dual-sort system.
Second, when Minneapolis made the switch it also gave everyone new lidded carts with wheels. St. Paul is still stuck with the old-school blue bins, which you have to remember to put out the night before recycling day. The bins are much smaller than the carts.
"I think people were confused and thought once the bin was full they had to be done," says Hunt. "If people just put their recycling in a plastic bag or cardboard box, drivers will still pick it up."
St. Paul is upgrading to carts in 2017 when its contract with Eureka expires. Eureka says it would've needed to buy new trucks to accommodate the bins. It wants to spread that cost over a new five-year contract, rather than making the change now and risk losing the contract in 2017.
Third, total recycling is measured by weight, and recyclables are getting lighter.
"More and more people are not getting a daily newspaper or regular magazine, and that definitely impacts our tonnage," says Hunt.
But really, it all comes down to beer.
"Even Summit beer is in cans now, so you're seeing people shift from glass jars or bottles to lighter plastic or aluminum," says Hunt.
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