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Indicator 6 1 : Solid waste and recycling

Goal: Minnesotans will conserve natural resources to give future generations a healthy environment and a strong economy. Continued prosperity and community well-being depend on conserving and maintaining the natural systems that are the base for economic activity.

Rationale: Waste generation, and the proportion that is recycled, is one measure of how efficiently Minnesota's economy uses resources. It is also an indication of environmental quality because solid waste puts stress on the environment in the form of air, land, and water pollution.

Tons of solid waste generated, per person

Local data

Data source: Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

Percentage of solid waste recycled

Local data

Data source: Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

Base recycling rate


Data source: Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

About this indicator: The amount of solid waste generated per person has risen steadily since 1991 and the base recycling rate has changed little since 1996. When yard waste and source reduction credits are added to the recycling rate (the middle column in the graphic), the recycling rate shows a modest increase.

The tons of solid waste generated per person each year in Minnesota increased from .88 tons in 1991 to 1.15 tons per person in 2000. The base recycling rate rose from 33.7 percent in 1992 to 40.3 percent in 2000, where it has remained mostly unchanged since 1996. After adding in yard waste and source reduction credits to the base rate, the recycling rate shows an increase from 36 percent in 1991 to 48 percent in 2000. While Minnesota's population grew by 11 percent between 1991 and 2000, total generation of solid waste grew by 44 percent.

The amount of solid waste Minnesotans produce and the portion they recycle have significant economic and environmental impacts. More waste means having to spend more on waste management. In addition, waste accumulates faster than natural systems are able to break it down.

Tracking the amount of solid waste by weight provides no information about the relative toxicity of what is thrown away. Materials containing toxic heavy metals, such as electronics, pose a growing challenge.

For comparison: In 1993, the Minnesota Legislature set a minimum target of reducing per capita generation of municipal solid waste by 10 percent by 2000, but the rate instead rose by 24 percent, from .93 tons per person to 1.15 tons per person.

Things to think about: Harvard Business School's Michael Porter suggests that waste should be thought of as an inefficiently used resource, which he equates with lost profits and wasted labor, since creating and managing waste imposes costs, but adds no value to the final product or service.

A 1989 study by the National Academy of Engineering estimates that more than 90 percent of the materials used in commercial activity do not turn up in durable goods, and quickly become waste. The study found that of the more than 10 tons of mass extracted per person annually in the United States, (excluding atmospheric oxygen and fresh water), roughly 75 percent is nonrenewable and 25 percent is renewable. This suggests that there are opportunities to create the same or greater economic value using fewer resources. Other national research suggests that continual reuse, recycling, and remanufacturing of materials and more efficient processes could cut resource use more than 90 percent in most sectors of the economy.

Technical notes: Data for this indicator is collected by counties and reported to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance under a 1989 law commonly referred to as SCORE, for Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment.

The solid waste that is tracked for this indicator does not include yard waste, auto hulks, street sweepings, ash, construction debris, mining waste, sludge, tree and agricultural waste, tires, lead acid batteries, motor and vehicle fluids and filters or other materials collected as separate waste streams, such as hazardous waste.

This edition of Minnesota Milestones reports a higher recycling rate for 1996 than was reported in 1998 because the updated figure includes the base recycling rate plus credits for yard waste and source reduction.

Starting in 1995, yard waste was not included in the state's base recycling rate. Instead, the state mandated a credit system for yard waste and source reduction activities to be added to the base recycling rate.


  • Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance:
  • Rocky Mountain Institute:
  • National Academy of Engineering, Technology and Environment by Robert U. Ayres, 1989:
  • “Green and Competitive: Ending the Stalemate,” by Michael Porter, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1995

Related data trends:

  • State and county population, total
  • Related indicators:

    Other related indicators:

    • Amount of solid waste by disposal method, such as recycled, composted, and incinerated (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency,; or Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance,
    • Toxic chemical production, disposal and release into the environment (Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Emergency Response Commission,; or Minnesota Pollution Control Agency,

    Retrieve county data for: Tons of solid waste generated, per person
    Retrieve county data for: Percentage of solid waste recycled

    Create Map: Percentage of solid waste recycled

    Select a Year to have a state map drawn which displays the data for the year you choose.

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