Steve Finn remembers when everything people threw out went into the town dump — or a ditch somewhere.

But trash collection and recycling follows a more sophisticated system now. And Finn, of Burnsville, knows all about it.

He was among the 42 people who completed the first Dakota County Master Recycler/Composter program in 2014. Registration for the spring 2015 program is open through April 24, and Finn is quick to endorse it.

He said it helped him understand the need to "divert as much as we possibly can from the traditional landfills because, quite frankly, they're filling up pretty fast."

The program also prepared Finn to educate others on ways to recycle and keep waste out of landfills. Armed with that knowledge, he has volunteered at information booths at events across the county and piloted waste sorting and collection stations at Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul.

"I enjoy people and I like to be outside and do something positive," said Finn, who also is using what he learned through the program to make compost for the small garden he and his wife tend.

The spring 2015 Master Recycler/Composter program begins April 28. Participants must attend weekly classes led by local and regional experts through June 2. The classes are each three hours long and address a variety of topics, including thoughtful consumption, recycling and waste history, hazardous household products, organic waste diversion and how to inspire others to change their behavior.

The program is $30 per person, to cover the cost of materials and transportation to two optional field trip destinations, such as a recycling center and a landfill.

Participants must also commit to volunteering 30 hours of their time for public outreach.

Lessons for adults

Dakota County based its Master Recycler/Composter program on Hennepin County's and also reviewed others around the country, including those in Portland and Seattle, said Jennifer Kedward, a Dakota County environmental specialist who coordinates the program. Its mission is "to bridge the gap between awareness and action by motivating people to reduce waste in their homes and workplaces."

The majority of 2014 participants were over age 40, and many were over 60, Kedward said. About 20 percent of participants were retired.

"We wanted to make a class where adults could come and learn and give back to the community," Kedward said. "We had education for kids and school programs but nothing for interested adults."

Officials in Carver and Scott counties have discussed conducting a Master Recycler/Composter program in the fall, said Marcus Zbinden, a Carver County environment specialist.

Dakota County expects master recyclers to complete their 30-hour volunteer commitment within a year, by staffing event booths, making presentations or launching recycling programs in their neighborhoods, workplaces or elsewhere. That can include helping cities in the county start or improve recycling or related efforts, Kedward said.

The 2014 master recyclers have logged more than 500 volunteer hours, Kedward said. Some have far exceeded the program commitment, putting in 40 to 70 hours each, and are continuing their public outreach efforts this year.

"We've noticed that it's kind of addicting to start getting involved in your community, and many of our master recyclers go far beyond the 30 hours," Kedward said.

Randy Locke, one of the 2014 participants, said he planned to continue volunteering this year after helping sort trash at several events in 2014.

"Dakota County has an emphasis on trying to sort organics and people don't quite understand what that means," Locke said. "Especially if we can get the younger generation doing it right, it would help."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail is