Public space and event recycling pose challenges

Rick Person
Public Works Program Administrator
Solid Waste and Recycling
St. Paul, Minnesota
Member, APWA Solid Waste Management Committee

Public spaces and events pose challenges to recyclers because the waste stream often contains large amounts of single-use products or food discards originating from multiple vendors. Events may be held in large public venues such as stadiums, fairgrounds and convention centers, or in spaces used for multiple purposes like public buildings, plazas, streets and parks. Many of these public places are not currently set up for recycling. Without providing convenience for visitors, recyclable materials often end up in the trash.

Each year 1.3 million tons of recyclables are thrown away in Minnesota at a cost of $312 million. Nationally, an estimated 86% of single-serve plastic drink bottles are not recycled. In response, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has recommended the state legislature make public space and event recycling mandatory throughout Minnesota beginning in 2009, along with commercial recycling.

The City of St. Paul is already taking steps to make recycling more available and convenient away from home, through public space and event recycling. Also, a growing number of large events in St. Paul are boosting their recycling efforts.

2008 Republican National Convention
The City of St. Paul, Ramsey County, USEPA and MPCA are working together to showcase best environmental practices at the RNC, demonstrating that green events and conventions can conserve resources and prevent pollution; highlighting green Minnesota businesses, products and services; promoting green marketing opportunities for St. Paul, Ramsey County and Minnesota; and developing a long-term protocol for green events.

Enhanced recycling at Xcel Center and RiverCentre will include food waste composting; 100% recycled paper and duplexing in copy machines and printers; waste reduction measures such as real dishes, water pitchers, no single-serve bottles, bulk purchasing, electronic registration, e-tickets and carbon offsets; citywide litter cleanup campaign; and post-convention deconstruction materials reuse and recycling.

General Motors and Ford are bidding on contracts for hybrid cars and buses including plug-ins; usage of E85 and biodiesel vehicles; HourCar car sharing system; light rail transit from airport to Mall of America and downtown Minneapolis; and biking and walking. Green hotels initiatives include enhanced recycling and waste reduction; water conservation; and limited linen and laundry service, along with Minnesota Grown organic food and healthy choice alternatives at RiverCentre and local restaurants.

St. Paul will showcase clean downtown energy projects including District Energy's biomass combined heat and power plant; Xcel Energy's 520 MW combined-cycle natural gas-fired generating plant; Science Museum of Minnesota; Metro Wastewater Treatment Facility sewage sludge CHP plant; and green buildings including Xcel Energy Center and RiverCentre, Travelers Insurance, Western Police station and several state office buildings.

Public Space Recycling
The city rang in the New Year with an improved two-stream recycling program for 75 city buildings and park facilities, new color-coded bins at recycling stations, new labeling system, and posters e-mailed to each employee with program information. Reinvigorating recycling in city facilities demonstrates to employees and visitors the city's commitment to the environment, and is complimentary to the city's other recycling programs.

The paper and cardboard stream in the city's recycling programs includes mixed mail and magazines, catalogs and phonebooks, newspapers and inserts, cardboard and boxboard, notebooks and shredded paper. The bottles and cans stream includes glass bottles and jars, steel and aluminum cans, aluminum foil and trays, plastic bottles, milk cartons and juice boxes.

With data from three waste audits, the Como Zoo and Conservatory green team and Eureka Recycling are determining the style, number and placement of recycling and trash containers throughout the facility, and developing the public education campaign. Full rollout of the new program will take place this spring, and will become the model for recycling at recreation centers, golf courses and many other park facilities.

Public Art Saint Paul is working with Eureka to link art and sustainable design for recycling bins in public spaces, starting with waste sorts and a pilot project in Mears Park, used by hundreds of downtown residents and workers. New artist-designed bins will be added for separate collection of bottles and cans, along with promoting use of public water supplies and refillable containers instead of single-serve plastic bottles.

Event Recycling
The city and Eureka have provided zero-waste services at the Living Green Expo ( at the state fairgrounds in St. Paul since 2000. The Minnesota State Fair hosts 1.7 million visitors annually. Eureka provided recycling services for the St. Paul Classic Bike Tour and 34 other area events in 2007. The 6,654 bikers in 2007 recovered 96 percent of discards through recycling and composting.

In a move to boost environmental stewardship, Minnesota Waste Wise and Eureka collected 4,900 tons of food waste last year, including 120,000 corncobs, and trucked them to a composting facility, returning to the fairgrounds as compost to enrich soils on gardens and lawns. The Minnesota State Fair is also home to Eco-Experience ( which had 350,000 visitors in 2007.

Rick Person can be reached at (651) 266-6122 or