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New recycling program is proving successful

When the city of Farmington switched its recycling program from a weekly to bi-weekly collection and gave residents bigger bins, city staff figured residents might just recycle a little bit more.

It turns out, they figured right. In fact, since the beginning of the year, the amount of recyclable materials collected has increased, and the amount of actual garbage generated has decreased.

How does the city know this? Well, they did a little experiment with help from the Farmington High School's youth development committee, a contractor, and Dakota County staff.

Back in December, when residents still had to separate their recyclables into paper bags of paper or plastic -- a process called the dual sort system -- and place those bags in the little green bins every week, city staff set aside a sampling of the items collected. On a Friday in December, they pulled the recycling from 75 of the 757 households that are included in the Friday routes.

Contractor Michael Orange came to the Central Maintenance Facility one morning in January and showed the Youth Development students how to separate all the collected items into 14 different categories, including five different types of paper, three types of plastics, three types of glass, two kinds of metal and, finally, a collection of contaminated materials that cannot be recycled.

By the first of the year, everyone in Farmington received a new, 65-gallon recycling bin with the simple instructions to place all recyclables into the bin, and to place those bins at the curb every other week.

The city gave it a few weeks, just for folks to get used to the process. Then, one Friday in February, recycling was again collected, this time from the city's new program, called the single sort system. Orange and the FHS students came back and sorted through the materials once again.

The totals from February were compared against those from December. City of Farmington municipal services coordinator Lena Larson said the results proved what city officials had suspected -- that more items would be recycled.


The study found that participation under the single sort system increased by 11 percent, and that the materials collected increased by 5 percent.

What they found, though, was that the amount of paper collected in February had actually decreased from December, but glass and metal collection had increased.

Still, Larson expected slightly higher numbers. However, she acknowledged, the economy likely plays a role in those results, too.

"People are buying less, so they're generating less garbage," Larson said. "We still believe the switch to single sort contributed to the increase, but the economy does play a factor."

A full report of the recycling experiment is available on the city's website, It includes graphs that break down what kinds of materials are recycled most, as well as a few tips on what sorts of things can and cannot be recycled.

"It's a ton of information," Larson said.

To that end, the city also wants to know what residents think about the new recycling program. A survey has also been put up on the city's website, and Larson hopes residents will take a few minutes to answer a few questions.

A few tips

There are quite a few things that simply cannot be recycled, Larson said. For instance, plastic berry boxes or anything that is waxed coated and cooled in the refrigerator are no-nos. The one city staff see the most are pizza boxes, because people think they can recycle those boxes since the boxes are cardboard. However, the residue sauce and toppings make those boxes unfit for recycling.

"Pizza boxes are huge because people really want to recycle their pizza boxes, but we just can't," she said.

On the other hand, hard plastics and glass are welcome. And those types of items do not have to be rinsed out, though it is helpful because doing so reduces the chance for bacteria growth.

For more information, see the city's Web site,