Minneapolis curbside recycling turns 40

November 15, 2023

Nov. 15 is America Recycles Day

This month, the City of Minneapolis celebrates 40 years of curbside recycling.

Since 1983, recycling has become easier for Minneapolis customers as the City program evolved from paper and can drives to pickups, from once a month to every other week, and from customers separating recyclables by material to all recyclables going into one City-provided cart.


  • November 1983: Citywide collection begins with curbside pickup once a month. Customers separate their own recyclables into their own paper bags.
  • October 1987: Crews start collecting recycling twice a month.
  • 1989-1990: Curbside recycling bins roll out citywide. Collection moves to every other week on customers’ garbage day.
  • 2013: Customers no longer separate recyclable materials from each other as one-sort recycling carts roll out citywide.

By the end of this year, more than 800,000 tons of paper, cans and bottles will have been recycled through the City’s curbside recycling program. Even with this huge milestone, a 2022 waste sort found that a lot of recyclable bottles, cans and paper still end up in garbage carts.

Choices make a difference

In celebrating this milestone, recycling staff hopes customers will know their choices make a difference every time they decide what to do with recyclable bottles, cans and paper when they’re done with them.

Understanding the recycling process can help customers make the best use of the program.

  • Recycling facilities can sort out beverage, food, laundry and bathroom containers and clean papers.
  • Almost all containers go through the sorting machines best in their original three-dimensional shapes.
  • Customers should flatten all boxes. This is the exception to the three-dimensional sorting.
  • The City’s recycling contractor can recycle plastics numbered 1, 2 and 5. Other numbered plastics – even if they show the recycling symbol – go in the trash.
  • Black plastic items have to go in the trash.

Recycling protects the environment by reducing natural resource use, provides local green jobs and supports the economy. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates that recycling supports 78,000 jobs in Minnesota and adds $23.9 billion a year to Minnesota’s economy.

Anyone can check if an item is recyclable on the City’s website.

Detailed recycling program milestones

Apr. 22, 1970: Earth Day observed for the first time.

June 1971: The Minneapolis City Council created the Advisory Committee on Recycling of Solid Wastes.

June 1, 1982: Phase I of curbside recycling began (32,000 households).

  • Collection of newspaper, clear glass and aluminum cans.
  • Hennepin County awarded the City a $40,000 start-up grant for the program.

February 1983: Phase II of curbside recycling began.

  • Brown and green glass, steel cans, cardboard, used motor oil and auto batteries added to monthly recycling set outs.
  • Three new haulers started collections for the program.

Nov. 1, 1983: Phase III of citywide monthly recycling collection began.

  • Materials collected include newspaper, food and beverage cans, glass bottles and jars, cardboard, used motor oil and auto batteries.
  • Five haulers: U.S. Recyco, Bierman Services, Minneapolis Education and Recycling Center (MERC), Recycling Unlimited, and Recyco.

Oct. 30, 1986: Metro Council mandates recycling goals. Hennepin County sets a goal of 16% recycling by 1990.

Oct. 1, 1987: Garbage carts delivered (June 1987) and recycling collection frequency increased to twice a month. Media event held in plaza between City Hall and Hennepin County Government Center Oct. 1.

June 1988: Recycling container pilots evaluated different curbside collection bins.

  • Testing covered corrugated plastic boxes vs. stacking plastic crates.
  • Collection every other week (pickup on the same day as garbage) was tested vs. twice a month collection.

November 1988: First City contracted advertising campaign to develop brochures and media ads.

May 1, 1989:

  • Recycling collection switched to every other week on the same day as garbage pickup.
  • City crews and Minneapolis Refuse Inc (MRI) took over residential recycling collections, each handling half of the residents.

June 1, 1989: "Cash for Your Trash" campaign began. This meant that a $5 per month per household credit for recycling appeared on sanitation service bills for those who had signed up.

Oct 3, 1989: State recycling goal of 35% by Dec. 31, 1993, adopted. Select Committee On Recycling and the Environment (SCORE) became law.

Nov. 1989-May 1990: The first curbside recycling containers were placed citywide. This resulted in an increase in recycling tonnages collected.

November 1990: Plastic bottles are added to citywide recycling collection.

July 1991: Plastic jars, tubs and single-use microwave containers added to citywide recycling collection.

1993: Multi-sort recycling trailers began to be used for collection.

December 2011: The City Council directed Public Works to study single-sort recycling program.

May 2012: Utility bill insert announces new materials accepted for recycling: Food and beverage cartons (milk, juice and soup broth, wine), refrigerated food boxes, all plastic bottles, jugs, containers and lids numbered 3-7.

2012: Pilot project evaluated dual sort (papers in one cart and containers in a second) versus single-sort (all materials in one cart).

June 2013:

  • Single-sort (one-sort) recycling program rolled out citywide; sorting recycling by material is no longer required.
  • Recycling credit combined with the base fee for collection services lowering the amount of the base fee.

October 2014: First full year of one-sort recycling results in 25% increase in materials collected and a significant reduction (62%) of worker compensation claims. Contamination rate just under 5%.

2019: National news media stories said that recyclables – plastics in particular – aren’t actually recycled. Program materials were updated to be clear which plastics are recycled (1, 2, 5, no black plastic).

2019: Recycle Smart campaign launched in partnership with the City of Saint Paul and Hennepin County. Goal of Recycle Smart campaign was to reduce contamination in recycling carts. Promotions mainly placed in and on buses, through social media and online. The campaign helped reduce contamination in Minneapolis by 1.35% (from 9.86% in 2018 to 8.51% in 2019). The top contaminants in recycling carts were:

  • Plastic bags and films and recycling put in plastic bags.
  • Random metal items (pots and pans, pipes and poles, hangers, silverware, etc.).
  • Large plastic items (laundry baskets, storage tubs, kids toys, etc.).

2022: Capture rate study sorting garbage, recycling and organics carts from 700 single-family homes was completed. Key findings:

  • Most of what was in the trash could have been recycled, composted or brought to a drop-off location.
  • The highest opportunities to recycle more include:
    • Aluminum cans, which are the highest valued recyclable item in the garbage.
    • Cardboard and mixed paper, which are the highest volume recyclable material in the trash.
    • Organics (food scraps and other compostable materials), which are the highest volume material in the trash.
  • Households signed up for the organics recycling program recycle more and recycle better with less contamination in recycling carts.

Nov. 1, 2023: 40th anniversary of the citywide recycling program.

Nov. 15: America Recycles Day.