From Linden Hills to Minnesota law

The neighborhood’s composting program inspired recently passed legislation to promote the activity statewide

What started as a nonprofit’s plan to green up its neighborhood has now inspired state law.

Since September 2008, many homes in Linden Hills have turned the act of composting into something as mundane as taking out the trash. Regular garbage still goes in black bins, but everyday waste such as paper towels, coffee grounds and dryer lint now go in green bins.

Curbside pickup began in September 2008 with about 900 homes opting in. Close to 1,200 take part today.

“It involves a little bit of change in behavior, setting up your kitchen. But I think people are excited to do it,” said Felicity Britton, who with the Linden Hills Power and Light nonprofit has helped coordinate much of the program.

The effort last year spread to the East Calhoun neighborhood. A Seward version is set to begin this spring or summer, and the city’s waste director, Susan Young, has indicated an interest in going citywide by the end of 2012.

Inspired by the project’s success, Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) — himself an active composter — this year successfully introduced legislation to boost composting’s presence in the state’s waste management hierarchy. Hornstein called it “an effort to provide better education.”

The hierarchy essentially lays out what the state wants to have happen to waste — reduce it if at all possible, take it to a landfill as a last resort. While composting long has been considered an option for food and yard waste, the idea that so-called source-separated items such as tissues and pizza boxes also can be composted is news to many people.

“There still are many Minnesotans who believe putting food scraps and paper products in landfills is harmless, but actually, doing so contributes to greenhouse gas emissions,” Hornstein said.

His legislation is meant to push source-separated composting to the foreground, putting it third after recycling and waste reduction. While it won’t necessarily push individuals in the direction of composting napkins, it could push change within larger groups.

“If there’s an organization or public body or entity who’s looking to do the best thing for their waste, they look to the hierarchy to see what they should be doing,” Britton said. “So if you’re going to pay attention to the waste management of your organization — whether you’re a Best Buy or an Ikea or a hospital or a university — you say, ‘This is what the state recommends.’”

That could have a trickle-down effect.

“We hope this bill will provide incentives for more businesses to model Linden Hills Power and Light’s efforts to promote composting among customers,” said Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60), who helped ferry the legislation through the Senate.

On a personal note, Britton said she looks forward to a day when she can compost away from home. Right now, when she visits her out-of-town cabin, she hesitates to throw away what she knows can be composted.

“I say, ‘I can’t throw this paper towel out. It’s just such a waste,’” Britton said. “Once you’re in the mind frame of, ‘I can recycle something,’ you feel terrible not doing it. So we bring it all home now.”

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the bill into law April 27.

How to deal with Minnesota trash

The state’s waste hierarchy lays out a preferred order for dealing with garbage. With the recent passage of House of Representatives Bill No. 3061, it now is:

1. Waste reduction and reuse.

2. Waste recycling.

3. Source-separated compostable materials, including but not limited to yard waste and food waste.

4. Resource recovery through mixed municipal solid-waste composting or incineration.

5. Land disposal that produces no measurable methane gas or that involves the retrieval of methane gas as a fuel for the production of energy to be used on-site or for sale.

6. Land disposal that produces measurable methane and that does not involve the retrieval of methane gas as a fuel for the production of energy to be used on-site or for sale.

— Source: State of Minnesota