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Merkley estimates that 15 to 20 percent of residents will sign up. The $40 annual charge will help fill an expected $80,000 gap between program costs and recycling revenue next year. He said the city hopes that gap shrinks as more residents take part, but utility rates will probably increase to help pay for the program.
‘Becoming very mainstream’
Organics recycling programs vary from city to city, but most of the 12 cities share a characteristic: Their garbage haulers are hired by the city, not individual homeowners, unlike most Hennepin cities. Some of those haulers collect organics for recycling, and the density of their routes matters.
“What haulers are looking for is … lots of stops close together so they can fill their truck in a short period of time,” said Jaimez.
In Wayzata, which pioneered organics recycling with a grant a decade ago, Randy’s Environmental Services hauls trash and organics. After using separate trucks for those duties, last winter Randy’s switched to a “Blue Bag” program that it markets nationwide. Organics are collected in compostable bags, put in the same can as trash and separated at the firm’s transfer station.
Randy’s reports that in cities where it collects organics for recycling, about 40 percent of households take part.
In Minnetonka, residents hire their own trash hauler from one of five firms. In 2007, the city used a grant to pilot organics recycling. Three haulers offered organics collection, but one has since dropped it for lack of business.
Jaimez said that in certain Minneapolis neighborhoods, participation in organics recycling is at 75 percent and higher. Though he is frustrated that people who pay $4 for a cup of coffee sometimes object to paying $40 a year for organics recycling, he thinks it will grow in popularity.
“This is becoming very mainstream,” he said. “Waste companies are starting to call themselves materials management companies, and they have major investments in organics recycling.”
In cities such as Portland, Ore., recycling is so efficient that organics are collected weekly while garbage is collected just twice a month. The MPCA’s Black, who remembers living in Minneapolis when the first curbside recycling programs crawled into being, thinks organics recycling will build faster because people are used to recycling.
“I think people are just really interested in recycling as much as they can,” she said. Organics recycling “makes a product out of waste, and it is good for the environment. People are amazingly interested in that.”
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380