Curbside organics recycling could become ubiquitous across Hennepin County in the coming years under a proposal county commissioners began discussing earlier this month.
The state’s largest county is considering requiring that all but its smallest cities collect food scraps and other organic material at the curb by 2022, a change that would dramatically boost the amount of food waste spared from landfills and garbage burners. Organics recycling programs take compostable materials to facilities that turn them into nutrient-rich soil.
“Without the motivation of a requirement, we haven’t seen indication that cities are going to move forward with organics,” Ben Knudson, a Hennepin County recycling specialist, told members of the County Board earlier this month.
Just 3 percent of the waste generated in Hennepin County last year was collected for composting. But organics, including soiled paper and other compostable materials, comprise a large portion of the county’s trash.
Reducing the amount of organic waste in the trash is a big priority of state waste officials trying to reach a 75 percent recycling goal by 2030. A new state waste plan aims to make curbside organics pickup common throughout the metro area.
Recently, Hennepin County began providing financial assistance to steer cities toward organics pickup. The county doles out money to cities for their recycling programs, giving it some leverage over how their operations are structured.
In 2014, it required Minneapolis to implement a curbside organics recycling program. That organics recycling program just completed its first year citywide.
If approved by Hennepin County later this year, the new mandate would target the county’s cities of more than 10,000 residents, which account for 91 percent of the county’s population. Some of the largest cities affected would include Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Plymouth, Maple Grove, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka. Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and six small cities already have citywide curbside organics pickup.
The requirement would be for cities to make organics recycling available to all residents. Some cities without such programs, including Edina and Minnetonka, have open trash hauling and residents can chose a hauler that offers organics pickup.
While only 11 percent of Hennepin County households subscribe to organics collection — mostly in Minneapolis — the county is a leader in the metro area. In other metro area counties, drop-off sites are growing more common.
Tim Farnan, a principal planner with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said he’s not aware of any other Minnesota counties that require their cities to offer curbside organics recycling.
“It’s a game changer,” Farnan said. “Hennepin County has historically been one of the most aggressive and kind of front-runners on organics, for sure. I’d say even nationally, really.”
The county is also considering a proposal that would require businesses producing more than one ton of trash each week to have organics collection by 2020.
The requirement would apply to certain businesses that produce a lot of food waste, like restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and food manufacturers. It would not require them to have organics bins for customers, however. County staff estimated it would impact about 3,000 businesses.
“[Businesses] said if required to do it, it makes sense and it was a logical step,” said Paul Kroening, Hennepin County’s supervising environmentalist. “But they likely wouldn’t do it unless we required them to do that.”