Solid Waste Management

County Waste-Management Plans

The Minnesota Legislature gave primary responsibility for solid-waste management to the state’s 87 counties. Contact the county solid-waste officer for details about the county waste-management plan, which outlines waste disposal options for businesses and for information about relevant ordinances. This plan, developed by the county and approved by the MPCA, may have specific business-related requirements. Cities may also have local solid-waste ordinances, and those plans should be reviewed as well.

The Legislature also gave direction to counties about the most preferred methods of waste management, a hierarchy from the most to the least environmentally beneficial. Since waste generation has increased one to two percent each year for more than 30 years, it pays for government and businesses to reduce wastes as much as possible, thereby reducing garbage bills, specific business solid-waste fees, and the percentage of taxes going toward waste-disposal costs.

The waste management hierarchy is:

  • Reduce and reuse – the best waste is, of course, none at all, so it is prudent to reduce waste by wise purchasing, good inventory management, and reuse of waste products.
  • Recycling – by separating out those wastes with intrinsic value, disposal costs will be reduced. Among wastes local governments may collect (or you may decide to collect and recycle yourself): glass, aluminum, tin, some plastics, white office paper, mixed paper, cardboard, paperboard, Tyvek envelopes, newsprint, printer cartridges, and more. Also, by establishing business policies that promote recycling, such as separating white office paper,and purchasing recycled paper and packing, markets are created for those materials that otherwise might be discarded.
  • Composting – yard wastes and some food products can be composted into beneficial soil amendments.
  • Incineration – a waste-to-energy incinerator consumes solid waste and produces energy, but has possible air-quality impacts, costs more than landfilling and produces its own waste – ash.
  • Landfilling – shipping wastes to a permitted landfill safely isolates wastes, but does not normally produce any side benefit (except in rare cases where methane is recovered for energy use) or reduce solid-waste volume.

Solid-Waste Taxes for Business Wastes

Businesses pay different solid-waste taxes from households in the same area. The tax rate is 9.75 percent on residential garbage service and 17 percent on commercial garbage service. Businesses that produce construction, demolition debris, medical waste, or nonhazardous industrial waste will pay a tax of 60 cents per cubic yard of collection capacity. The Department of Revenue collects the taxes, which are used to support cleanup of old landfills and grants for waste-reduction and recycling programs.

Solid-Waste Permits and Enforcement

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permits and regulates solid-waste facilities, including landfills (mixed municipal solid waste, demolition debris, and industrial types), transfer stations, incinerators, composting facilities and more. In addition to state permits, local units of government (such as counties, cities or townships) may also have ordinances or licenses required for certain activities or facility types. These requirements attempt to assure that any solid wastes disposed of in Minnesota facilities will not become a source of liability later. If your wastes go to other states, it makes sense to find out whether you could be held liable for cleanup of those wastes later.

The MPCA has permit application processes to build or operate a solid-waste facility as part of a business, or to dispose of nonhazardous industrial wastes by land application (lime residues applied to agricultural land, for example). Concerns about illegal dumping of solid waste on a property can be directed to the county solid waste officer, the MPCA or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, all of which have certain authorities that may be of assistance.

Specific Materials Banned From the Waste Stream or Requiring Specific Disposal

Some wastes are banned or must be disposed of according to state laws or MPCA rules. Among those things that are banned from normal disposal are: waste tires; yard and tree waste; motor oil and filters, as well as other vehicle fluids; lead-acid batteries; nickel-cadmium batteries or other rechargeable or nonremovable battery packs; major appliances, including removal of items containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), such as old transformers; computer monitors; telephone books; all mercury including fluorescent and high-intensity discharge lamps and mercury switches (building, automotive); lead paint waste; chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants; and petroleum-based sweeping compound. To find out more about disposal or recycling options for these materials, contact your solid-waste officer, call the MPCA or visit the MPCA website at the address listed in the Resource Directory Section of this Guide, to look at a copy of the Minnesota solid waste rules.

Electronic Waste

Electronic waste, or E-waste, is any waste that has a circuit board or cathode ray tube (CRT). This includes items that businesses use every day, such as computers, televisions, telephones and fax machines. Because of their potential lead content, when these items become a waste a business must then to be hazardous unless supporting test data is available proving otherwise. Businesses can either have the e-waste recycled or handled as a hazardous waste.

Minn. Stat 115A.1310 – 115A.1330 impacts retailers, collectors, recyclers, and manufacturers of video display devices sold to households (for example, televisions and computer monitors, including laptops). Among its requirements, this law requires retailers to only sell products of registered manufacturers. Registration and reporting requirements also apply to businesses that collect, recycle, or manufacture video display devices. For more information on these requirements, call the MPCA or visit the MPCA website at

Heavy Metals in Products

Minnesota law prohibits the use of heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium) in all packaging and certain products. If the business produces, purchases, uses or distributes a product or packaging using these metals, contact the MPCA to determine whether the business is in compliance with regulations. Certain legal products containing mercury, such as thermometers, thermostats, and automobile switches, are among the materials with restricted distribution or disposal. Contact the MPCA if you have questions about heavy metals in products or packaging.

Buying Recycled Products

Businesses that buy recycled products help to create better markets for recyclables. Through wise purchasing of recycled products or those using less toxic constituents or less packaging, a business makes a statement about its commitment to the environment, can reduce solid-waste fees and makes its collected recyclables increase in value.

Recycling Space Requirements for Building Owners

Minnesota state law requires buildings of 1,000 square feet or more to provide “suitable space” for the separation, collection, and temporary storage of recyclable materials (Minn. Stat. 16B.61). The law applies to new or significantly remodeled commercial structures.

In addition to the requirements of state law, specific numeric standards for recycling space have been adopted in the Minnesota Uniform Building Code (UBC). The UBC requires a certain percentage of space to be set aside for recycling, depending on how the space is used.

Labeling and Purchasing Recycled Products

The recycling logo is one way to signal that the business produces a product that contains recycled materials or is packaged in recycled materials to the consumer. While there are no specific regulations governing use of the recycling logo, the preferred practice is to use the logo, percent of recycled content, and percent of recycled content made up of post consumer waste (i.e., materials recycled by consumers).

Food Wastes

The MPCA and several other organizations currently assisting businesses seeking to reduce, recycle or compost food wastes. If the business produces food wastes, there are several costsaving and environmentally sound methods of reuse or disposal. Contact the MPCA for more information.

CREDITS: This is an excerpt from A Guide to Starting a Business in Minnesota, provided by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Small Business Assistance Office, Twenty-eighth Edition, January 2010, written by Charles A. Schaffer, Madeline Harris, and Mark Simmer. Copies are available without charge from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Small Business Assistance Office.

This post is also part of a series of posts on Minnesota Environmental Protection Programs and how they affect starting a business in Minnesota.