Colette Morris and Mary Lanners of Eden Prairie have been walking partners for 20 years. Morris cherishes the routine and kinship, and Lanners' way of reminding Morris to "take a deep breath and appreciate nature."
Now Lanners is working on Morris to appreciate nature in a new way — perhaps avoiding the deep breath part.
In November, Eden Prairie joined a growing number of cities offering curbside organics recycling to most households. Lanners was what we call an early adopter, jumping right in to order her 35-gallon green bin and going to the hardware store to buy small biodegradable bags.
Then, meal after meal, Lanners filled those little bags daily with vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, pasta, breads and nuts, paper towels and tissues; even pizza delivery boxes went into the bin. Every week, her waste hauler takes the materials to a commercial composting facility to be recycled into nutrient-rich compost for use in gardens and farms.
"It's just a habit," 71-year-old Lanners said. "I keep [the collection bin] out there when I'm cooking. It's kind of weird but you do get used to it."
She'd like more people to get used to it.
While the city of Eden Prairie offers a $50 rebate to residents who sign up for at least one year of organics service through their waste haulers, the reason is deeper for Lanners. The mother of a 31-year-old daughter retired about five years ago from her work at a medical clinic to give back as a volunteer, including with an environmental group at her church.
"We need to be socially good stewards of the earth," said Lanners. "It's important to get involved in the environment and consider what we are we leaving to our children."
Extreme food waste
In the United States, 30% to 40% of all food produced is wasted, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service. Because food waste in a landfill decomposes without oxygen, it creates primarily methane gas as a byproduct. Food waste that decomposes as compost has access to oxygen because it is regularly turned and aerated. As a result, it releases carbon dioxide, which contributes less to global warming.
The number of cities adopting curbside composting is growing, from Bloomington to Brooklyn Center and Edina to Excelsior. Minneapolis has led the way, thanks largely to the work of nonprofit Minneapolis Climate Action. Other counties offer drop-off sites for composting, including Ramsey County; discussions continue in St. Paul about starting curbside pickup.
To find out if your city is offering the service, go to litterless.com/where-to-compost/minnesota.
Composting, which may seem daunting at first, can quickly become a habit. The Minnesota Composting Council, for example, (mncompostingcouncil.org) offers easy-to-follow lists of what is and what is not compostable.
And, about that smell? It's easy to mitigate, by regularly washing out the bin, as Lanners does.
So with a little nudge from Lanners — something like, "Colette, why don't you try it?" — Morris is trying it.
"She gave me bags to start out," said Morris. "And she allows me to put our organic compost in her bin without charging me.
"She's always looking for ways to save the environment. She's so worthy of making the world a better place to live, and I'm honored to be her neighbor."
Another nearby neighbor got wind of the deal and offered to pay Lanners $15 a month to add their compost to her bin.
"Just put it in," Lanners said, happily, "and buy me a cup of coffee." (And, while you're at it, ask the coffee shop whether they compost those grounds, won't you?)
Even Lanners' skeptical husband, Mark, has bought in. "At first, he said, 'I'm going to let you handle this,'" she said with a laugh. "Now he's on board."
When the weather warms up, Lanners plans to reach out to more neighbors to get them to try composting.
"I'm 71. I've been very lucky throughout my life," Lanners said.
"Being so involved in gardening, I was so thankful that Eden Prairie started collecting organic waste. It stays out of landfills, which is great. It's used in school gardens and for road construction. It's amazing how much less waste you have.
"It might seem small," Lanners said, "but one person becomes many."