SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – A city task force has been meeting in the past year with the goal of improving recycling rates in Sioux Falls. 

In 2022, 211,251 tons of municipal solid waste (garbage) came to the Sioux Falls Regional Landfill, while construction and demolition materials were at 218,290. City ordinance requires commercial garbage haulers to achieve at least an 80% or the recycling goal which was 20.5% in 2022. 

The overall recycling rate for Sioux Falls commercial garbage haulers in 2022 was 18.7% with the highest hauler reaching 22.9% and lowest hauler reaching 16.5%.

The national average recycling rate was 32% in 2022, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.   

Five years ago, Sioux Falls area haulers reported a 23.4% recycling rate. That same year, Millennium Recycling, a recycling business in Sioux Falls, stopped accepting plastic bags for recycling. 

During the most recent city council budget hearing, councilor Rich Merkouris asked the city public works department about the 18.7% garbage hauler recycling goal in 2023. 

Director of public works Mark Cotter explained how city ordinance sets the annual recycling goal based on the average of all the haulers in the previous year and noted there’s a disincentive if haulers don’t meet the standard. 

Cotter highlighted how the city’s solid waste planning board created a task force to further study recycling efforts in the city. 

Josh Peterson, who is the city’s environmental services manager, told city councilors the task force has been studying the issue if more recycling material is coming to the landfill or if consumer habits have changed. 

“It’s a very complex issue,” Peterson said. “We have a wide variety of what works for single family housing is completely different from what works for an apartment complex and works for commercial.”  

The latest numbers in 2023 showed the recycling rate was at 18.7% meeting the 2023 goal of 18.7%. There’s planned recycling education campaigns for both citizens and garbage haulers, according to the July minutes from the city solid waste planning board meeting. There’s also been an ongoing study of characterizing what is coming into the landfill as solid waste.  

“Is packaging changing with some other shippers out there? Are people using less one-use water bottles? Is there less newspapers and magazines so we’re getting less paper waste out there?” Peterson said.

Cotter mentioned paper recycling has gone down with more digital options and plastic water bottles are not as heavy as they used to be as two examples. 

In a news release, Millennium Recycling said record population growth has led to a surge in municipal solid waste and city recycling ordinances need more enforcement. 

“City government and residents must prioritize recycling and enforce existing ordinances to reverse this downward trend,” Millennium Recycling said in an August news release. “Comprehensive and consistent recycling education is essential to overcome lack of awareness and misinformation.” 

Millennium Recycling pointed Sioux Falls residents to learn the city recycling guide, report to the city if recycled materials are being taken to the landfill, avoid bagging recyclables and use BINfluencers or help and spreading awareness. 

In 2018, Millennium Recycling told KELOLAND News “wish-cycling” was an issue along with working to educate the public and private waste haulers on what can be recycled.   

In January 2023, the recycling industry report at the city’s solid waste planning board noted workforce continued to be a challenge and workers were down 30% but robots were being counted on to help. 

Peterson summarized the main stakeholders are the landfill, recycling industry, garbage haulers and citizens and the city and Millennium have aligned messaging on recycling. 

“We’re really working with the industry to really understand what is going to be effective,” Peterson said. “We recognize education is important, but it doesn’t necessarily change people’s habits. So we’re looking at what potential incentives could be out there.”