Food scraps and other organic material make up about a quarter of the waste produced by the 800,000 residents of Ramsey and Washington counties — but there’s no full-scale curbside system to collect it for composting.
Local leaders want to bring large-scale organics collection to the counties by 2023. Without it, the counties will have a hard time meeting the state-mandated goal of recycling three-quarters of their waste by 2030.
Led by Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy, a county partnership, project leaders are requesting $21 million from the state capital budget to support the $42 million endeavor.
Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo said she thinks the project will move forward even without state funding, though the speed and the scope would be affected.
The program would give residents free “durable compostable bags” to fill with food scraps and place in their regular trash bin. The mixed trash would be taken to a sorting facility where robotic arms would separate the bags from the rest of the garbage. Where the organics waste will be taken and what machinery is needed are among the specifics still being worked out.
“The consumer demand for organics composting is huge,” said St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen. “I’ve only been in office for eight years, and I would say that I heard zero about it eight years ago and now I hear about it on a very regular basis. People want it, they want it convenient,” she said.
Brendmoen does not envision the city leading a curbside ordinance. If the county slows on the process, the City Council might take some action, she said, but currently she thinks the program is on track.
Minneapolis collected 5,301 tons of organics last year with its own curbside program, known for its little green trash bin. Other cities in Hennepin County, like Medina and Wayzata, use a “blue bag” composting method, similar to the method for collection proposed for Ramsey and Washington counties.
Project planners wanted to steer away from a system that would place more trash haulers on the road and collection bins on the sidewalks, like Minneapolis’ model. Doing so would cost over 10 times more than the durable bag system, said Andrea McKennan, communications and outreach coordinator for Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy.
Residents in Ramsey and Washington counties can currently dispose of organics waste for composting at drop-off sites, 16 of which are in Ramsey and two in Washington.
At one of those sites, operated by the Como Community Council in St. Paul, residents dropped off 202,020 pounds of food scraps last year.
Michael Kuchta, executive director of the Community Council, said that shows the value of the sites, but he also said residents regularly bring up collecting food scraps curbside.
MatasCastillo said she is happy with the free durable bag program because she thinks it will allow more equitable participation in composting.
“Oftentimes recycling or even the way we’re doing organics right now comes from a place of privilege,” she said. “We want it really to be equitable across the board and engage every community, whether this is something you are used to doing or new to you.”
Cleo Krejci (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.