Organics recycling pushed by neighborhood groups

$10,000 grants from Hennepin County help with outreach, education

organics recycling
Two Southwest Minneapolis neighborhood organizations have received a grant to work to increase organics recycling participation. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Recycling organics isn’t more time intensive than throwing such waste away, said Andrea Siegel, co-chair of the Tangletown Neighborhood Association (TNA) environmental committee.

Rather, she said, it’s a matter of changing your mindset.

“It takes about a month to get into a good habit and get a system that works for you,” Siegel said. “If you’re willing to put that month in to retrain yourself, in the end, it really doesn’t take any more time.”

Siegel has been spreading that message this summer, thanks in part to a $10,000 grant TNA received from Hennepin County.

Her neighborhood is one of two in Southwest Minneapolis that has received a grant, which the county hopes will boost participation in the city’s 4-year-old curbside organics-recycling program.

Organics recycling is the process of diverting food scraps, food-soiled paper and other compostable materials from the trash.

The county says that doing so helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and runoff, improve soil quality and support local jobs.

Minneapolis first unveiled its curbside organics-recycling program in 2015 and completed its rollout in 2017.

The city program is only open to residents of buildings with four or fewer units, all of whom are required by ordinance to use city garbage and recycling services.

There is no additional cost to participate beyond the city garbage and recycling fees residents already pay. The city empties the organics bins once a week, as it does trash.

(Residents of five-plus-unit buildings can use eight drop-off sites across the city, including four in Southwest Minneapolis, if they want to recycle organics.)

About 47.6% of the city’s 107,000-plus eligible households participate in Minneapolis’ curbside organics-recycling program, according to Kellie Kish, the city’s recycling coordinator. That’s up about 2 percentage points from last year.

She said it’s become more difficult to sign up new households than in previous years.

“We’re kind of hitting the critical mass,” she said.

In Tangletown, 60% of eligible households participate, according to Siegel.

She said TNA has persuaded 23 new households to sign up for the program through its grant-funded efforts, which have included 60-plus hours of door-knocking.

It has also persuaded 63 Tangletown residents to pledge to increase their organics recycling at home.

Siegel said barriers to participation include perceptions about how much time it will take and concerns about smell, bugs and space.

She said one way to alleviate smells is to keep potentially stinky food scraps in the refrigerator or freezer. Another, she said, is to buy a ventilated collection bin.

The benefits of organics recycling, Siegel said, include keeping food waste out of the county’s garbage incinerator and turning it into something that can help the environment. Plus, she said, recycling organics can help residents better understand what food items they don’t use and adjust shopping habits accordingly.

“Once you start collecting it for a long time, you start to notice what you’re throwing out a lot,” she said.

Kyle Samejima, executive director of Minneapolis Climate Action, which received a grant in partnership with the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, said rotting food waste releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

With their grant funding, Minneapolis Climate Action and the Kingfield Neighborhood Association have provided organics-recycling education to English-as-a-second-language classes and have worked with a couple Latinx churches to raise awareness, Samejima said.

They also have been at community events and collaborated on a zero-waste trivia night, an event they hope to replicate in October.

With regard to bugs, Samejima said a potential solution is for people to spray white vinegar around the edge of their bin. Another is to put a piece of fruit, such as an apple, in a jar next to a counter bin, which will attract fruit flies.

She said draining off liquids from the organic waste and storing dry organics separately are two ways to control odors. She also pointed to the county’s website for other organics troubleshooting tips.

“Every step that we take to reduce waste and have a positive environmental impact truly adds up,” she said. “Individual action equals collection when more of us do it.”