The quaint quotient in downtown White Bear Lake took a big jump. And the volume of waste went down by more than 75,000 pounds.
One result: A statewide award that could end up encouraging other cities to go and do likewise.
The setting is the Washington Square section of downtown White Bear Lake, a swath of businesses that includes Grandma’s Bakery and Olive’s Fresh Pizza bar, wrapped around a city-owned parking lot.
The rows of dingy dumpsters that used to line the zone between the backs of the stores and the parking spots were a visual “mess” as well as signifying lots of garbage that didn’t need to go to waste, in the words of City Manager Ellen Richter.
It mattered there more than in most other places in town, she said.
“The parking lot is used for our weekly Marketfest, which brings in thousands of people,” Richter said.
White Bear Lake bestrides two counties, Washington and Ramsey, that are jointly stressing the importance of businesses like restaurants recycling food waste.
They seek to boost organic recycling from the hundreds of tons now delivered by Ramsey to tens of thousands between both counties.
In White Bear Lake the triggerman has been Tyler Conrad, owner of Goodthings boutique, who rallied fellow businesses to improve both the look of things and the recycling rate while cutting disposal costs.
Eleven businesses got together in the end, working with the nonprofit Minnesota Waste Wise to audit each one’s usage and seek bids from haulers for a new regime.
Washington and Ramsey counties awarded eight grants adding up to $31,400 for things like signage, compostable bags and equipment to transport the waste to a new and more sightly enclosure.
The before and after photos say it all. The area has gone from junkyard dog to pampered poodle, with outdoor table seating taking the place in one spot of the dumpster that once sat stinking up the area.
Then there are the numbers that impressed judges from the League of Minnesota Cities, which earlier this month gave White Bear Lake a City of Excellence award at its annual conference in Rochester:
• About 75,000 pounds of organic material previously thrown away have been recycled since January 2016, according to a report compiled by White Bear Lake environmental specialist Connie Taillon.
• Twenty-four cubic yards of recyclables are now collected weekly from the businesses, up from 18 cubic yards before. Two businesses began recycling and all of them stepped up their game with bins and signage.
• And about $4,400 is being saved annually among the businesses, who also benefited from government grants that are considered worthwhile since counties are pushing to meet statewide recycling goals.
“It’s actually a good chunk that everyone’s saving,” Conrad said. “The best part is, it’s one truck in and out, not six pulling up to dumpsters. I really did it to clean up downtown. Instead of dumpsters clogging the sidewalk, you don’t see it and it looks nice.”