I was cleaning out my fridge the other night getting ready for “garbage day”. As I was bagging up the last of some now strong smelling week old cioppino, asparagus past its prime, shriveled limes, hard pita bread and one other thing that was unidentifiable, I wondered how much of it I could stuff down my disposal – less tempting for the neighborhood raccoons.
If I lived in Macalester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, I wouldn’t have to choose between smelling up my garbage can, burying it in the back yard or sacrificing my plumbing by overfilling my insinkerator. Beginning this week, Eureka Recycling, along with the City of Saint Paul and other project partners, announced the launch of a unique composting collection project. In addition to getting assistance with backyard composting, 600 residents will have their food scraps and other compostable materials – egg cartons, pizza boxes, used paper towels -- collected for composting until mid-September, some via a drop-off location, some by a recycling truck, and some by a bicycle pulling a trailer. Bicycle hauled waste – now that’s cool!
Eureka Recycling will use data and information from the project, which is part of a larger study, to examine all the ways in which residents keep food waste from becoming garbage. Which will be used eventually to develop a long-term composting plan for Saint Paul, the first zero-waste city in Minnesota, or for that matter the Midwest. Mayor Rybak are you reading this?!?!?
“We know that recycling alone is not going to empty our trash cans. Composting is the next step to get us to zero waste,” said Tim Brownell, CEO of Eureka Recycling, Minnesota’s nonprofit zero-waste organization. “We’re committed to getting every bit of Saint Paul’s compostable material out of the trash can and this project will help us design how to do it in the most environmentally beneficial way while also considering the costs and how the people who will use the program prefer to compost.”
The project is unique because it is a holistic look at not only what we decide to do with waste but also how we generate it. Basic stuff like I was debating: is it disposal worthy or garbage can ready? But it will go the next (or maybe it's the previous step) exploring the question of why do I have any waste at all in my fridge? Or why does 25-30% of the food we buy, get pitched. To sort this out, Eureka Recycling will work with the NorthStar Initiative For Sustainable Enterprise and Dr. Christie Manning, behavior psychologist and Macalester College assistant professor, will investigate the information and motivation people need to prevent food from being wasted in the first place.
The project is ground breaking for other reasons too. It will answer other process questions like what is the best means for collection, in terms of environmental footprint and maybe more importantly best collection method for engaging the homeowner: truck, bicycle or a convenient drop-off center. Homeowners may be more inclined to recycle if a person comes by with a bike and trailer to pick it up -- just to see the bike and trailer. And the end game -- how best to process the waste once collected -- should it go to an industrial composting facility or feed an anaerobic digester ( a process that turns garbage into energy)?
This project seems to have the potential to go beyond trash talk and teach all of us in the green-behavior-change-arena some significant lessons, not the least being: instead of fitting the solution to the system, fit the system to the best solution. Imagine me slapping my knee... Eureka! I finally get it!