Simplified: The rate of recycling – i.e. the percentage of waste that gets diverted from the landfill – has seen a steady decline over the last five years. Now, the city, waste haulers and Millennium Recycling are working together to figure out why and how to encourage more folks to recycle.
Why it matters
- As Sioux Falls grows, the city has seen a 14% increase in municipal solid waste over the last five years, according to city data. In 2022, the city added more than 211,000 tons of municipal solid waste to the landfill.
- Meanwhile, the recycling rate during that same five years went down from a high of 23.4% to a five-year low of 18.7% last year.
- There’s no single answer as to why the recycling rate is decreasing. City officials say the decline is due to people consuming fewer single-use products like water bottles, magazines and newspapers which means less stuff overall ends up in the recycling bin. Recycling plant leaders attribute the decline to a lack of education for residents, or just plain apathy with the process.
"We’re just wasting all of those resources that we could be reusing," said Marissa Begley, communications and education director with Millennium Recycling, the region's single-stream recycling plant. "On a conscience level it's not a good thing."
What can be done to reverse the trend?
The city started a recycling task force in October, and that group has since become a subcommittee of the city's solid waste planning board.
- The main consensus is that more education is needed.
One group working to help with that is BINfluencer – a nonprofit sponsored by Millennium Recycling working to educate residents on how, and why, to recycle.
- BINfluencer is hoping to receive some money from the city in the upcoming budget cycle to help fund plans to create a trailer to give people a hands-on look at how waste diversion works and all of the various options in the region. The idea is it'd be used to come to events and schools to educate people of all ages.
The city is also looking at other forms of waste diversion besides recycling.
- That includes composting. Environmental Services Manager Josh Peterson said, if approved, there's money in the 2024 budget slated for a large-scale feasibility study on commercial composting.
"We’re looking at a lot of different ways to help extend that life of the landfill so that we don't have to accelerate expansion," Peterson said.
There's also work already being done to ensure consistent messaging about recycling is coming from all the different groups who intersect with it.
- Sustainability Coordinator Holly Meier said the city and Millennium Recycling have already aligned their branding and education efforts related to recycling.
What happens next?
The recycling task force is expected to present its recommendations to the solid waste planning board in the coming months.
Another item to watch is whether the City Council approves $100,000 to fund waste diversion efforts at the landfill. That could include supporting BINfluencer, Peterson said.