Simplified: The City of Sioux Falls wants to remind you that plastic bags cannot be recycled as recycling rates decline citywide.

Why it matters

  • The city has seen recycling rates decline in recent years after a peak in 2018 when 23.4% of waste was diverted to recycling. By the end of last year, that rate had dropped to 18.7%.
  • A waste characterization study conducted by HDR this spring showed that as much as 20% of waste headed to the landfill could have been recycled.
  • The city, as well as waste haulers and Millennium Recycling, are working to better educate the community on recycling. It's an issue the city is taking very seriously, Public Works Director Mark Cotter said. A big part of that is reminding people that plastic bags cannot go in the recycling bin.
"Any bagged recycling does go to the landfill," Sustainability Coordinator Holly Meier said. "So, if you're really working hard to recycle, but you're bagging it, it's pretty much like you're not recycling at all."

Why are recycling rates declining?

There isn't any one single reason, but according to Meier, some of the contributing factors include:

  • Lack of knowledge, i.e. people putting things in the bin that aren't recyclable,
  • Challenges with recycling at apartments and commercial properties – essentially areas where all it takes is one person recycling incorrectly to mess up a big bin of recyclables that now have to be taken to the landfill.
  • Growth in multi-family housing,
  • Shifts in consumer behavior, i.e. fewer people are subscribing to newspapers and magazines, leading to less paper waste.

That said, Millennium Recycling CEO Jake Anderson said he thinks it'd be misleading to believe that fewer papers are enough to cause the declining recycling rate. There's more to the story, he said, noting that the recycling rate "certainly shouldn't be going down in a growing city."

"We can do a heck of a lot better," Anderson said. "Burying resources in the ground is not an effective long-term strategy for managing waste."

How can I be a better recycler?

Millennium Recycling has a handy "yes" list that gives examples of all of the items you can place in your mixed recycling bin.

Here's a high-level breakdown of what can be recycled:

  • Paper
  • Cardboard and cartons
  • Plastic bottles, tubs and jugs
  • Metal cans (but no scrap metal)
  • Glass jars and bottles

You can learn more on what can and cannot be recycled here.

What happens next?

The city is focusing on education, including sending out postcards with a "do not bag recycling" message and partnering with waste haulers to increase education.

The city will also be reaching out to commercial and multi-family housing properties to help find solutions to improve recycling rates there.