The cost of improper recycling could increase for some Olmsted County residents.

A proposed ordinance change will support garbage haulers charging a $20 fine to customers who misuse recycling bins.

“They are seeing egregious abuse of the recycling carts -- dirty diapers, dead animals, yard waste, computers and rechargeable batteries,” said Tony Hill, director of the county’s environmental resources director. “They are also seeing residents use that recycling bin as a second trash bin.”

If passed by the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners, the new fee would be put into place Jan. 1.

A public hearing on the issue is planned for the Olmsted County Board meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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Here are a few things to know about the proposal:

1. Misused recycling bins can spoil an entire load.

“It basically forces good recyclables to be landfilled or combusted because they are co-mingled with non-recyclable items,” Hill said.

Julie Ketchum with Waste Management public affairs said the company, which handles approximately three-fourths of the county’s residential waste and recycling contracts, estimates 75 percent of its customers put plastic bags in their recycling bins, which can foul loads.

“Plastic bags are not recyclable in curbside recycling programs, because when recyclable materials are processed at recycling facilities, they wrap around equipment and require significant downtime at the facility, which drives up the cost to process the material,” she said.

2. Not all offenses are intentional

Hill said part of the problem stems from what he calls “wishful” or “aspirational” recyclers.

“People think that anything can be recycled, when it can’t,” he said.

Adding the wrong types of plastic or other materials to the recycling with the hope they don’t end up in the incinerator or landfill doesn’t work, he said.

“Almost all recyclers are putting some items in their recycling bins that are not recyclable,” Ketchum added. “Typical recycling mistakes are to throw all plastics into the recycling bin.”

3. Bad recycling increases the cost of processing.

“Haulers are being assessed fines at the processing facilities for contaminated loads,” Hill said.

While trash is delivered to Olmsted County’s Waste-to-Energy Plant, recyclable materials picked up at the curb are taken to out-of-town processing plants for sorting, and facilities in Minneapolis and St. Paul have increased rates due to increased contamination.

Additionally, haulers report a single stray plastic bag can gum up the works, forcing sorting machines to shut down, with the cost — a $100 to $500 charge — passed to trash haulers.

4. Ordinance change seeks to level the playing field.

The proposed revisions to the Solid Waste Management Ordinance will establish a standard penalty to be placed on customers in violation by all the licensed haulers, rather than leaving them to adopt differing penalties.

“It is our understanding that the county is seeking an ordinance so that customers in Olmsted County are treated fairly and uniformly," Ketchum said. Many haulers in Minnesota and elsewhere have been charging for recycling contamination for a few years now, Waste Management included.

“Fees provide an economic signal to residences and businesses to take greater care in how they recycle, so that they recycle the right types of material, reduce the contamination, and keep the recycling program viable for the community.”

It also establishes a uniform process for haulers, which involves the requirement to document offenses with photos.

5. Garbage haulers asked the county to participate in the effort.

Hill said the five garbage haulers providing curbside recycling service in the county asked for the ordinance to be created.

“They want a backup from the county that they can point to as an ordinance to the customer saying that the county also identifies them as a poor recycler,” he said.

That doesn’t mean the county is taking a lead role in issuing the fines.

“I want it to be very clear to the public that this is their (the garbage haulers’) initiative, not the county’s,” Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown said.

6. Drivers see waste as it’s being dumped.

Cameras in the trucks picking up recycling help drivers identify when a load is being contaminated at the curbside.

“They can also tag that with their GPS and go back to the site a week later and tag those carts with education,” Hill said, adding that the tags can identify specific items that were wrongfully placed in the bin.

7. Coordinated education campaign will be conducted before fees start.

Hill said county staff will work with haulers to raise awareness of the issue and potential penalties between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.

“The goal is to educate people and provide a financial incentive for proper recycling," Hill said, noting the fee passes the cost on to recycling violators, rather than the entire community.

Information will include information regarding what can and can’t be recycled, with notices placed online and within customers’ bills.

8. First offense would trigger a warning

A warning regarding improper recycling practices would come with added customer education to help make adjustments and avoid a fine.

A second documented violation within 90 days of the warning is expected to spur the $20 penalty, which will be included in the customer’s next invoice for services.

9. There is an appeal process

Fines will be able to be appealed, first to the county’s Environmental Resources Department. The hauler will bear the burden of proving a violation occurred.

If county staff cannot resolve the dispute between the private parties, the customer can appeal to the county’s Environmental Commission, which will have the final say in the process.

10. Federal action could be taken.

Hill said a pair of bills in the U.S. House and Senate could provide help in addressing recycling concerns

“They are looking at providing dollars to local communities to improve their curbside recycling,” he said, noting the House has proposed $5 million in federal grants and the Senate is looking at a measure that would provide $15 million over five years.

Increased recycling concerns started with China’s decision to stop accepting unsorted recycling. China was a major purchaser for items picked up at curbsides through the U.S.



A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for Oct. 6 during the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners’ 9 a.m. meeting in the boardroom of the city-county Government Center.

Information on attending the meeting online will be posted with the agenda at



Knowing what can and can’t be recycled may be the best way to avoid a penalty. Here’s what’s allowed in a recycling bin:

• Metal cans: Aluminum and steel cans (empty)

• Paper: Newspapers, mail, cereal boxes, magazines, and flattened cardboard

• Plastic Bottles, jugs and tubs marked with No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 only (empty)

• Glass: Food and beverage bottles and jars

• Cartons: Empty food and beverage cartons, which are basically boxes that contained liquid, such as juice boxes or soup containers

Here’s some of what should never be put in a recycling bin:

• Plastic Bags

• Batteries

• Shredded paper

• Tanglers: light strands, extension cords, hangers

• Needles

• Foam containers and packaging

• Diapers

• Plastic toys

• Food and plant waste



Many of the same items can be taken to the Olmsted County Recycling Center Plus, but they must be pre-sorted.

Here’s a list of what’s collected at the center:

  • Aluminum cans
  • Clear glass bottles and jars (no window glass, dishware or ceramics)
  • Colored glass bottles and jars: green, brown and other colors (no window glass, dishware or ceramics)
  • Corrugated cardboard (clean only with packing materials removed)
  • White office paper
  • Newspaper and colored paper
  • Magazines
  • Telephone books
  • Plastic bottles No. 1 and No. 2 with a neck and clean plastic No. 5 dairy containers
  • Tin/steel food cans, empty aerosol and paint cans
  • Clean scrap iron, aluminum, copper, brass and stainless steel

Waste wizard

Help on determining how to recycle or dispose of nearly any object is also available on the county website through its Waste Wizard tool, which allows users to enter the name of an item to find the best way to dispose of it.



Most plastic containers are marked with a small number inside a recycling symbol. The numbers identify the type of plastic used to make the container.

Here’s a list to decode what can — No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 — and what can’t — all others — go into a curbside recycling bin in Olmsted County:

No. 1 — PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), which includes soda bottles, water bottles, cooking oil bottles and salad dressing bottles.

No. 2 — HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), which includes milk jugs, shampoo bottles, butter tubs and detergent bottles.

No. 3 — V or PVC (Vinyl), which includes pipes, shower curtains and clear medical tubing.

No. 4 — LDPE (Low-density Polyethylene), which includes shrink wrap, grocery bags, and sandwich bags.

No. 5 — PP (Polypropylene), which includes yogurt tubs, (orange) medicine containers and plastic caps from soda bottles

No. 6 — PS (Polystyrene), which includes take-out containers, disposable plates and cutlery, aspirin bottles, CD cases and egg cartons.

No. 7 — Other, which includes baby bottles, iPod cases and microwavable dishes.