Local recycling of organics — food scraps and food waste paper — may get a boost from a state rule change coming next year from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The new rule will make it simpler and less expensive to open new organics recycling centers.
In Dakota County, that could result in more local facilities accepting organics for composting, said Lori Frekot, environmental initiatives supervisor.
Currently, two organics compost facilities serve the entire metro area: RRT Processing Solutions LLC is located in Dakota County in Empire Township, and a Mdewakanton Sioux facility is located in Shakopee in Scott County.
Because of the rule change, the six yard-waste-only sites in Dakota County could choose to accept organics if they follow the new requirements, Frekot said.
"Having more facilities available helps make collecting and transporting more cost-effective because there is less distance between the generator and the facility," she said.
The current rule holds organics recycling centers to the same standards as landfills.
"Right now they have to follow a lot more stringent rules that can make it very costly," said Emily Barker, a specialist in the MPCA's organics recycling division. "For small facilities, it can be much too expensive to follow the rule."
A key change in the new rule is that organics composting facilities will have more options for the type of impermeable surface required over the ground, and more of the operations will be able to take place off that surface than under the current rule, Barker said.
The rule will be published by the MPCA in December, followed by a 30-day public comment period. If it is not contested, it would take effect three months later.
Hennepin County has taken the lead among metro counties in promoting household organics recycling. Most of the current curbside pickup of organics is occurring in Hennepin's western suburbs.
Dakota County is unlikely to have curbside pickup of organics for households before 2016, unless garbage haulers offer it on their own, Frekot said.
Some county commissioners have expressed skepticism about making organics recycling a priority for the county.
At a recent briefing for the board, environmental specialist Steve Pincuspy said the argument for recycling food scraps and food waste paper is that they make up 30 percent of the garbage people throw away and they are filling up landfills when they could be turned into animal feed or composted into rich soil.
Putting food waste in landfills is wasteful when there are other uses for it that benefit the environment and the economy, Pincuspy said.
In Dakota County, the thinking is that organics recycling should pay for itself. "You shouldn't rely on property taxpayers to subsidize correct behavior," said Dakota County Administrator Brandt Richardson.
The county is lending technical support to an organics recycling project in Lakeville schools this year and will spend 2014 considering how to proceed with other programs, Frekot said. Selected programs would be proposed as part of the 2015 budget.
"We are establishing the foundation and we are experimenting," Frekot said. One option is to organize the collection of food waste at clusters of restaurants, she said.
Meanwhile, some garbage haulers have begun offering curbside recycling of organics on a test basis.
In Burnsville this year, Randy's Sanitation tested the demand for organics recycling by allowing its customers to recycle organics along with yard waste. The company gave its customers blue bags for the food waste to keep it separate from the yard waste while allowing it be collected in the yard waste bin. When yard waste collection stopped for the year at the end of November, the organics trial ended; now it will be evaluated, the company said.
Dick's Sanitation also did a curbside organics recycling pilot project during the summer and fall in Northfield in cooperation with the city; 148 homes were included.
"It didn't turn out like we wanted it to," said David Domack, Dick's public relations manager. Domack said he was hoping for 30 percent participation and he does not think that happened. "We found that more people utilized the service for yard waste than organics."
The test was extended by three months to the end of November, with more education to try to get more people to participate. Results have yet to be tallied.
"This is a strong change. You are changing the way people are sorting their trash internally in their home," Domack said. It took regular recycling time to get going, and this will take time too, Domack said.
Northfield's Environmental Quality Commission will be reporting to the City Council on the experiment after final counts are in, said commission chair George Kinney. The goal is to reduce landfilling by removing organics and turning them into compost, Kinney said.
In a survey taken by a Carlton student among those in the pilot program, some said it's easier to throw things in the trash than to have a separate container for organics. But, said Kinney, "Some people love it.
"Some of the people who are saying, 'Well, this is making me change how I do things' — well, yes it is … That is exactly the point. It's going to make you change some habits. And habits are hard."