Minn. seeks to boost recycling with food scraps

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s recycling rate has stagnated over the past two decades, but green advocates think they have something to recharge it: food scraps.

They’re hoping that organics recycling will sweep Minnesota the same way that recycling of aluminum, glass and paper has, with Minnesotans automatically sorting leftovers to be turned into Earth-friendly compost.

Not everyone is on board. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that early tests of potential interest are mixed, with even some enthusiastic recyclers worried by the smell and insects that can come with recycling kitchen scraps.

Minnesota is a good recycling state. It has recycled about 43 percent of its solid waste annually for the past 15 years, well above the national average of about 34 percent.

But that rate has been flat despite decades of promotion. That’s due partly to the economic slowdown reducing trash and recyclables. The weight of recycled materials is also falling because newspapers are smaller, catalogs are skinner and aluminum cans are thinner.

There’s also human nature.

“A large amount of people, through laziness or just not caring, are just not going to recycle,” said Jim Wollschlager, spokesman for Randy’s Environmental Services, a west metro recycling business.

State officials have set a goal in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of cutting the flow into landfills by 75 percent by 2030, with a big chunk of that coming from recycling organic material. The potential is there. The Environmental Protection Agency said 14 percent of what went into landfills nationwide in 2010 was food waste; the country recycles just 3 percent of its food waste.

Communities around Wayzata and some neighborhoods in Minneapolis have begun organics recycling, and St. Paul could be next, with the city council to vote on a proposal from the nonprofit Eureka Recycling next year.

Dianna Kennedy, a Eureka spokeswoman, compared the program to libraries — paid for by all taxpayers if not used by all.

“I see it as another quality-of-life investment we make,” she said. “I have thousands in St. Paul who want composting.”

Eureka Chief Executive Tim Brownell said pilot programs in 2001 and 2010 concluded that 55 percent to 60 percent of households would participate in an expanded recycling service.

But some people doubt centralized organics recycling will work.

Only 13 percent of households participated in an organics recycling pilot project recently run by Allied Waste Services, which handles garbage and recycling in much of the metro area. Allied test-marketed 200 homes in the metro area, educated homeowners and provided separate green bins.

Even that rate was greater than a Eureka program run in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul. There, subscribers pay $40 a year to bring food waste to a centralized pick-up site. In a neighborhood of about 8,000, about 150 are participating.

Tenley Johnson lives in the neighborhood. She recalled the rotten smells and insects in her kitchen when she participated in a trial run.

“A lot of people would try to do it,” said Johnson, who now composts in her back yard. “But we have to make it cleaner and more efficient.”

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