Minnesota dumps 3.6M tons of trash annually, could recycle one-third

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Ever wonder about all that garbage you and your neighbors haul out to the curb every week – where does it end up, and just how much refuse are we producing?

The state's Pollution Control Agency this week plans to unveil a report that will shine a new light on the grimy, dark insides of our trash cans, the Star Tribune reports. The study of Minnesota's waste stream – the first of its kind in 13 years – reports that state residents are chucking as much garbage as ever, roughly 3.6 million tons a year. But the age of recycling has notably changed the contents, the newspaper reports.

There's much less paper, but more plastics. About one-third of the trash is "organics," much of it wasted food, the Star Tribune reports. Roughly $217 million worth of valuable materials are buried in the fetid piles of coffee grounds, banana peels and consumer packaging. And there's an increasing number of recyclable plastic bottles in the garbage, the newspaper reports.

Pollution Control Agency officials say the state has a big opportunity to increase its recycling rate – roughly one-third of what ends up in garbage trucks could be recycled.

Still, Minnesotans have won high marks as a "green" state. Minnesota was ranked the No. 5 greenest state in the nation in 2011 by the environmental group Greenopia, which used 10 criteria in its analysis, including recycling rate, per capita waste generation, air and water quality, number of buildings certified as green and number of green businesses. Minnesota was one of just two states in the top 10 that were not on the East or West Coasts, USA Today noted.

In the Twin Cities metropolitan area, residents produce about 6 pounds of waste per person each day, Ramsey County officials say – enough garbage to fill Target Field more than 25 times every year.

Nationwide, U.S. residents in 2009 filled landfills with trash equal to the weight of 88 million cars, according to the organization Keep America Beautiful. And Americans produced enough trash to circle the earth 24 times, the group says.

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