With Minneapolis preparing a new curbside residential recycling program this year, awareness about organics recycling will rise sharply in coming months.

Among commercial property owners, organics recycling is a concept that’s still in its infancy. But a handful of restaurant owners and property managers are blazing a trail and adding it onto their menu of existing recycling services, efforts that are in large part being driven by their tenants.

Convincing commercial properties to adopt organics recycling is something of a holy grail for Hennepin County officials who are seeking to reduce the amount of refuse that is burned at the downtown Minneapolis incinerator. The commercial sector generates more than half the total waste in the county, and nearly two-thirds of that waste is recyclable.

To help businesses with the upfront costs of instituting organics recycling, the county has a grant program that last year doled out $610,000 to 80 businesses and organizations to start up or expand existing recycling programs. Some of them included first-time organics recycling efforts.

“In Hennepin County, especially in Minneapolis with the residential program, organics has been talked about a lot. So with our grant program, restaurant and property owners are instituting organics recycling as an add-on,” said Andre Xiong, director of the county’s business recycling program.

“In a sense, it’s trendy. It’s what the customers want, and business owners and landlords are seeing now that that’s the case. It also helps them reduce their garbage disposal by diverting more matter from the waste stream.”

One of the commercial real estate industry recipients in the 2014 grant round was St. Paul-based Wellington Management, which landed a $5,000 award to help start up an organics recycling program at its Greenway Office Building on 21st Avenue S. in Minneapolis.

Hailed as a model “green” building with its 4,000-square-foot green roof, 34-kilowatt solar panel array and salvaged wood building materials, the 100 percent occupied Greenway Building boasts a lineup of environmentally-conscious tenants who want organics recycling on its list of amenities.

The Will Steger Foundation, which advocates for climate change solutions, was one such tenant driving the demand. Megan Van Loh, a 27-year-old administrative coordinator with the foundation, said that as a tenant in the Greenway Building, her group felt it was important to have the opportunity to recycle as much food waste as possible.

“I really like it because I can’t compost in my apartment, and so when I think about the waste that I throw away in my daily life, it’s nice that when I go to work I can compost what I am consuming for the day,” she said. “It also fits with the goals of the Will Steger Foundation. We see organics composting and recycling as part of a solution to climate change because it’s practicing sustainability and waste reduction. You reduce the amount of energy that’s used to process waste.”

Wellington Management President Steve Wellington said building owners and property managers have plenty they must learn to add organics recycling. For instance, new bins must be placed around the building, and a separate waste-hauler must be hired.

“At the moment, [organics] are kind of the cutting edge and the next step of recycling, and I’d say that in the commercial sector, it’s still a little bit unusual,” he said. “But I think it’s probably coming, and we were certainly prompted by the passion of our wonderful tenants at the Greenway building for anything green.”


Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer. He can be contacted at hotproperty.startribune@gmail.com.