Back to the Jan-Feb 2021 issue

How Moorhead Used Roller Carts to Increase Residential Recycling

By Jenny Holmes

Recycling logoCity leaders in Moorhead want to lead sustainability initiatives in the state and advance their position in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program. A new recycling program is helping them achieve these goals.

Moorhead residents are recycling more than ever because of new, no-sort recycling carts. When the city kicked off the revamped curbside recycling program, not only did public participation increase fivefold, but the city also climbed to Step Three of five steps in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program.

Providing quality products and service

Moorhead Public Works Director Steve Moore stands in front of a recycling truck.
Moorhead Public Works Director Steve Moore says buying roller carts through a cooperative purchasing contract made it easy to switch to no-sort recycling. PHOTO COURTESY SOURCEWELL

In July 2017, the City of Moorhead implemented the no-sort system — allowing users to put most recyclable items into one bin. To do so, the city purchased 16,000 recycling bins through a cooperative purchasing contract.

“When you’re starting a new service, it’s really important to make a great first impression,” says Steve Moore, City of Moorhead public works director. “And you do that by using quality products that help you provide quality service.”

Moore and the city selected 96-gallon totes for residential recycling and 300-gallon containers or dumpsters for apartments and multi-family housing.

“Whether it’s repairing a street or picking up your garbage or picking up recycling,” Moore notes, “we provide all those services that you use every day in your community.”

Prior to the no-sort recycling method, residents would be asked to separate products into several material-specific containers. Under the new plan, most items — with a few exceptions — could go right into the large bin and be wheeled out to the curb every other week for pickup.

Raising awareness

The city also created a campaign around the renewed recycling efforts, including a landing page on its website dedicated to frequently asked questions, guides to recycling, ideas to help encourage others to participate, and more.

It wasn’t long before Moorhead began to see its efforts pay off. Moore said the city increased its rate of recycling by 500% — which he attributes in part to the ease of no-sort recycling, as well as the high-quality containers provided to each customer.

“You give them a good product to use and they’re going to use it,” Moore said.

Cooperative purchasing made it easy

Nearly three years later, Moore still sings the praises of cooperative purchasing, which makes it easy to get competitively bid and awarded contracts.

“You go to the [cooperative purchasing] website and you can say ‘I need this product,’ and then you click on it and you look down there and you find, ‘that’s the one I want; that’s the vendor I want to work with’ and buy them direct,” Moore says. “And already knowing that we would get the best price because it had been competitively bid already. It really saves time, saves you money. It’s so easy; I can’t stress that enough.”

Becoming a GreenStep city

In the same year Moorhead implemented its no-sort recycling program, the city also attained Step One in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program. The city was recognized for making a commitment to conserving resources and reducing waste. In 2019, Moorhead achieved Step Three and is now working toward Steps Four and Five in the process.

The Step Three recognition shows community members and others that the City of Moorhead is making measurable progress in energy and resource conservation, as well as innovation, city leaders say.

Minnesota GreenStep Cities is a voluntary challenge, assistance, and recognition program to help cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals. This free, continuous improvement program is based upon 29 best practices tailored to Minnesota cities and focuses on cost savings, energy use reduction, and encouraging civic innovation.

Moving a city of more than 43,000 residents to step up recycling efforts undoubtedly helped Moorhead reach another GreenStep metric for recognition and advancement.

Sustainable Consumption and Waste is number 22 of the 29 GreenStep best practices. It focuses on increasing waste prevention, reuse, and recycling, and moving to a lower-consumption, more cyclical, biological approach to materials management.

Reaching Step Three “is a great achievement for Moorhead,” says Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd. “By advancing in the GreenStep program, Moorhead and our peers are helping to make Minnesota more resilient for the future while also helping our cities thrive economically.”

Jenny Holmes is public relations and communications specialist with Sourcewell ( Sourcewell is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (