Minneapolis residents eagerly participated in the first year of the city’s new organics recycling program — the largest of its kind in the metro — but so far they’re tossing less than anticipated in the green curbside bins.
More than 45,000 households have signed up for the program since it expanded to the entire city last July, or 43 percent of the eligible single-family homes and small apartment buildings. The city had expected 40 percent of eligible households to participate.
Those residents sent nearly 4,000 tons of organic matter to be converted to compost at a Rosemount facility, rather than incinerated with other trash. But that’s about half what the city expected when it launched the program a year ago, based on a consultant’s projections.
The city’s director of solid waste, David Herberholz, said people are generally tossing items most associated with composting — like fruit and vegetable scraps. They haven’t yet grown accustomed to recycling other materials the program accepts, like bones, meat, cheese, pizza boxes and soiled paper, he said.
“People are very conscious of getting the program right,” Herberholz said. “So they’re kind of tiptoeing and concentrating on the food waste, initially.”
State waste officials hope organics collection services eventually become commonplace across the Twin Cities.
A handful of other cities and individual haulers offer curbside pickup, and organics drop-off sites are growing more prevalent.
In St. Louis Park, which has had citywide organics collection since 2013, 27 percent of eligible households — about 3,300 — participate. The program collected 281 tons of organic waste last year.
Across Hennepin County, just 3 percent of all waste was sent for composting last year. The majority was either landfilled or incinerated, but the county estimates that about a quarter of what ends up in the trash bin is organic waste.
The Minneapolis organic waste goes to Specialized Environmental Technologies in Rosemount, where it is gradually broken down into nutrient-rich soil. The piles are specially maintained so they heat up to between 140 and 170 degrees, which is why they can break down materials — like bones — not meant for backyard composting.
Although Minneapolis hasn’t reached the projected volume of recyclable organics, Anne Ludvik, director of organic policy development at the Rosemount facility, said, “I think what they’ve gotten has been very remarkable.”
Ludvik said the organic waste coming from Minneapolis has very low contamination, meaning almost all of it is compostable. That’s not always the case with other customers, including restaurants, schools, grocery stores and other commercial entities.
So where does all that compost go?
Some of it is delivered back to community gardens in Minneapolis, Ludvik said. But the compost has also been used at the Amazon distribution center in Shakopee, the new Vikings training center in Eagan and the renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Ludvik has been working with cities and counties to incorporate it into road projects, to help curb soil erosion.
But one day more of it may end up in the hands — and gardens — of the people who created it. Herberholz said the city has been exploring ways to return it to the public, such as bringing pallets or bags of it to community events for people to take home. Last year, the city brought several cubic yards of it to a soccer event for people to take, for example.
“That’s where the education really hits home,” Herberholz said. People think, “I worked very diligently to separate my waste and get this into my organics stream, and now I’ve closed the loop because it’s coming right back to me.”