Dakota County wants organics recycling to pay for itself

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 25, 2013 - 4:03 PM

County hopes a program in Lakeville schools will pay for itself by reducing garbage costs.

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John Volkers checks the temperature of the windrow, one of the steps in the composting process Monday at the Organics Recycling Facility in Prior Lake, MN. The ideal temperature is between 140-160 degrees fahrenheit.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Curbside recycling of organics — leftover food scraps that can be turned into desirable black garden compost — is not yet available to households in Dakota County.

Dave Domack would like some help getting it going.

As a sales executive for Dick’s Sanitation in Lakeville, Domack would like Dakota to offer incentives like Hennepin County does to make organics recycling affordable for residents and haulers.

“If it’s not the haulers you want to give the incentive to, give the incentive to the resident in some form or fashion to give them a reason to compost their waste,’’ Domack said.

Hennepin County gives haulers a $45-a-ton discount on the fee charged to empty the contents of trucks at an organics recycling center. The county’s cost is $60 a ton and it charges haulers a $15-a-ton tipping fee.

So far Hennepin has 150 schools and 12 communities participating in organics recycling, but even with the tipping fee discount Hennepin has been able to get just 3 percent of food waste out of the garbage stream.

Dakota County, on the other hand, offers no financial incentive to encourage organics recycling and hopes it will take off without a county subsidy. Its goal is to divert 4 to 8 percent of its organic waste from landfills by 2020.

The county recently solicited ideas from the public about how to meet those goals. It is looking for suggestions that could be carried out with technical support from the county staff but without an outright subsidy, said Lori Frekot, the county’s environmental initiatives supervisor.

Dakota’s strategy is to try voluntary approaches and low cost incentives, such as education and technical assistance, while investigating financial and regulatory options, Frekot said.

If voluntary and low-cost approaches don’t deliver sufficient progress, the county could consider making organics recycling mandatory or offering financial incentives, Frekot said.

“If we wanted to make it mandatory, that is a huge county board decision. We would need a lot of information and data.’’

Start with the schools

As a starting point, this fall the county plans to support the Lakeville School District in implementing organics recycling in all of it schools. Students will be asked to toss the remains of their lunches into containers strictly reserved for food waste.

“The Lakeville effort will be districtwide, in an effort to make it financially self-sufficient,’’ Frekot said.

Data suggest that doing both regular and organics recycling can reduce the amount of waste going to the garbage can by up to 80 percent. The county’s hope is that the recycling will allow the district to use smaller dumpsters and have garbage pickups less frequently, resulting in savings that might be enough to cover the costs associated with organics recycling.

Doing organics recycling districtwide means students learn and practice recycling as they move from elementary to high school, and it makes it easier to analyze costs and benefits, she said.

Without county assistance, Dick’s Sanitation this summer plans to do its own organics trials. It is considering allowing residents of Burnsville and Farmington who already contract for yard waste pickup to add organics to the same bins.

‘The next challenge’

And starting June 3, it will provide a separate cart for organics recycling free of charge to 150 households in Northfield.

“We didn’t think we would get great participation if we said, ‘By the way, we are going to force this upon you and you need to pay for it,’ ’’ Domack said.

What Dick’s hopes to learn is what volume of garbage organics recycling would take out of the garbage stream headed for landfills.

“From there we have the next challenge, which is to figure out how to motivate people to recycle organics and make a profit,’’ Domack said.

Northfield has an interest in food waste recycling because the city owns a landfill and doesn’t want it to fill up too fast, Domack said. If 30 to 40 percent of what is going to the landfill is food waste, recycling that instead of tossing it in the garbage could considerably slow down the use of the landfill, he said.

“We are just doing this on our own to get a feel for the advantages and disadvantages are of the program,’’ Domack said.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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