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Continued: Where has all the trash gone? Minneapolis eyes 'zero waste'

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 12, 2014 - 6:00 AM

Beyond ‘zero heroes’

Minneapolis already encourages people to be “zero heroes,” buying products with less packaging, bringing their own coffee mug to work and vacuuming the coils under their refrigerator every six months to make them more efficient.

Days into the job, new mayoral aide Stephanie Zawistow­ski offered few details about what Minneapolis’ zero-waste plan would look like but said that communication and education is important when it comes to having people using recycling and other programs day to day.

“You just want to make it easy for people to participate in,” said Zawistowski, who comes to the job after doing environmental management work for Best Buy.

For instance, Minneapolis’ recycling rate jumped after the city introduced single-sort recycling last year, allowing people to dump all their materials in one bin instead of s­eparating them.

The city will review the numbers to figure out which neighborhoods need more outreach, and is looking at how language barriers among immigrants may lead to lower recycling rates in some areas. Officials are considering explaining instructions in more pictures than print, as well as translating more into Somali, Hmong and Spanish.

San Francisco, a role model

At a zero waste forum in March, San Francisco waste coordinator Julie Bryant told the crowd that her city’s accomplishments were possible for Minneapolis, too.

“We believe any city can do what San Francisco has done,” she said.

But Minneapolis and San Francisco have major differences in how they handle waste. While Minneapolis’ waste hauling services mainly cover residential homes, San Francisco has control over commercial garbage, too. And the city benefited from aggressive state laws requiring municipalities to divert much of their waste from landfills or face steep fines.

A bill in the Minnesota Legislature would help Minneapolis’ cause if passed, granting $7 million more in recycling funding for counties and raising recycling in the metro from 50 to 75 percent of all waste.

Composting: ‘Make it easy’

Hennepin County is pushing the city to adopt a curbside composting plan for organics, which make up about one-third of local waste, after dropping a bid to expand capacity at the trash incinerator. Other cities in the county already have organics recycling, including St. Louis Park, Wayzata, Medina, Loretto, Maple Plain and Medicine Lake.

If curbside composting is implemented citywide, all Minneapolis residents could start putting out their banana peels, pizza boxes, coffee filters, Q-Tips and other organic materials for curbside pickup. A consultant’s report last fall suggested the city consider making it mandatory.

Pilot projects already have taken place in eight Minneapolis neighborhoods. Yet even in affluent Linden Hills, only a little more than half of citizens fill their green carts, and city leaders are now studying how to come up with a plan that will build wider participation.

Linden Hills resident ­Dottie Dolezal cuts off the top of her milk jug and keeps it under her sink for when she disposes of apple cores and carrot peelings. When it fills up, she wraps the scraps in newspaper and puts them in the green cart by her back door. She has encouraged neighbors to compost, too, while talking over the fence, running into them at block parties and hosting an ice cream social in her home.

“You just have to find ways to make it easy,” she said. “If it’s a lot of work, people just aren’t going to take the time.”


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  • Dottie Dolezal wraps organic wastes into a newspaper in preparation for disposal.

  • Dottie Dolezal, who lives in Linden Hills, disposes of her organic wastes by keeping them in a jug under her sink until there’s enough to dump onto a newspaper and put into a green cart by her back door.

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