Wedge organics program inspires state bill

Rep. Frank Hornstein seeks funds for multifamily-building composting

Former Elliot Park resident Kathryn Jordan testifies
Former Elliot Park resident Kathryn Jordan testifies at the state Capitol in favor of a bill that would fund organics-recycling projects targeted at residents of multifamily buildings. Rep. Frank Hornstein of Southwest Minneapolis authored the measure. Submitted photo

A grassroots push to start an organics-recycling drop-off site in Lowry Hill East has inspired a Southwest Minneapolis state representative to seek funding for similar efforts statewide.

A bill from Rep. Frank Hornstein (District 61A) would provide $5 million for organics-recycling projects targeted at people who live in multifamily buildings.

Hornstein, who wrote the bill with leaders of the Lowry Hill East effort, said the funding would make it easier for multifamily-building residents to recycle organics, something many can’t currently do.

“This opportunity to do something really beneficial for the environment and the planet should be available for people who live in multifamily buildings,” he said.

Organics recycling is the process of reusing food scraps and other biodegradable items, such as egg shells, paper towels and pizza boxes. The recycled materials are often made into compost, though food scraps can be used as animal feed.

Organic materials comprise about a third of the waste stream, Hornstein said. When landfilled, they generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

In Minneapolis, the city offers weekly curbside organic-waste collection for people who live in one- to four-unit buildings but not for residents of five-plus-unit buildings.

There are seven city-run organics drop-off sites, including two in Southwest Minneapolis, but they aren’t necessarily convenient for everyone, especially people who don’t have a car.

That lack of access inspired former Lowry Hill East resident Katlyn Flannery to start a drop-off site in the neighborhood. In 2017, Flannery got funding from the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) to pay for commercial hauling. The Wedge Community Co-op provided space for the bins.

Within three months, Flannery said, the bins were consistently full. The Whittier Alliance in April 2018 sponsored a second drop-off site at the Wedge Table, and the Lyndale Neighborhood Association subsequently sponsored a third site at Zion Lutheran Church. A fourth drop-off site, sponsored by Minneapolis College, has opened in Loring Park.

“I don’t think we realized how popular it would be,” Flannery said.

LHENA Community Outreach Manager Scott Melamed isn’t sure how many people utilize the four sites, but he said over 1,200 are signed up to use the bins at the Wedge Co-op.

Hauling there costs about $1,200 a year.

Flannery said having readily available funding for drop-off sites would make it easier for community groups to start them.

She and Kathryn Jordan, who has used the bins and helps run the program, said that working on it has been an empowering experience.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of time [and] it requires a lot of passion, but every success is that much more meaningful because it’s coming from the community directly,” Jordan said.

It’s unclear how many Minnesotans recycle organic waste, but in Minneapolis, at least 46% of one- to four-family households are signed up for curbside pickup. Those families diverted over 23,000 tons of organic material in 2018.

State law requires that metro-area counties recycle or organics recycle 75% of their waste by 2030.

Residents of one- to four-family homes in Minneapolis can request an organics- recycling cart from the city online.

Residents of five-plus-unit buildings in the city aren’t eligible for curbside collection but can use LHENA or the city’s drop-off sites. A list of those is online, and residents can sign up for LHENA’s program. There is no cost.

LHENA plans to add drop-off sites in additional neighborhoods, Melamed said.