Hennepin County wants cities to start curbside organics recycling, and it’s planning to pay more to those that do next year.
It’s part of a shift in recycling across the country to focus more on organics, or food waste. Hennepin County’s own move toward organics is part of a gradual increase in funding that the county envisions, aiming for half of recycling dollars to go toward it by 2020.
“It sets the tone,” said Ben Knudson, a Hennepin County recycling specialist. “It will get the attention of cities.”
The state allocates recycling money to counties for distribution to cities, which can use the money to provide discounts to residents, buy compostable bags or other items or to help pay for city contracts. This year, $3.2 million of the county’s $3.5 million in recycling funds went toward cities’ recycling programs, while $300,000 went toward organics recycling.
If the County Board gives final approval to the funding policy change on Tuesday, next year’s amount dedicated to organics programs will leap to $720,000 — a fifth of the $3.7 million the county will allocate to cities.
The county plans to gradually increase that amount each year until 2020, when up to 50 percent of the total funding will go to organics.
“[It’s] the new era in household waste management,” Commissioner Mike Opat said at the Nov. 22 County Board committee meeting. “We went to ‘throw it all in the garbage can’ to various styles of recycling. And now we’re going to move into organics. It’s a big step.”
A report released Nov. 15 by Hennepin County showed that food waste is the top item residents are throwing away that could be recycled. In that report, the results of sorting trash from three Minneapolis neighborhoods last summer, 25 percent of trash is food waste that could have gone to organics recycling.
“There’s a lot of organics in the trash, yet not a lot of people have the opportunity to participate in organics,” Knudson said.
In 2015, cities across the county collected 98,000 tons of recyclable materials and 1,400 tons of organics from 352,000 households.
This year, Minneapolis has ramped up awareness to boost the number of people participating in its curbside organics recycling, which kicked off in a limited way in 2015 and expanded citywide this year. So far, more than 42,500 Minneapolis households have signed up for the program.
Just 12 of 44 cities in Hennepin County have organics programs. Other cities have been slow to start curbside organics recycling programs because of the costs or uncertainty about the best collection methods, Knudson said.
He said the county’s funding distribution program can get cities to take a closer look at organics recycling, though there’s no mandate to require they start programs.
“It’s new — not a lot of people know what it is,” he said. “We’re hopeful it will be a big incentive for cities to start it.”