Compost Buddies searching for more friends in the Wedge

Katlyn Flannery stands next to the community organic recycling bins at The Wedge Co-op. File photo.

When Katlyn Flannery decided she wanted to start recycling her organic waste in early 2017, there weren’t many options for a large-building apartment renters like her.

She went to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association to see if there was a way for people who live in buildings with more than four units to get access to city organics recycling bins. They said there wasn’t, but she was welcome to come start one. So Flannery joined LHENA’s environmental committee, which launched two programs: an organics drop-off at the Wedge Community Co-op and Compost Buddies, a smaller-scale effort to pair those with organics recycling bins to those without.

Initially, Compost Buddies was not promoted on a large scale. But the soaring popularity of Wedge Co-op drop-off is changing that. Today the drop-off at the co-op is at capacity, with about 650 renters who recycle their organics in 10 public bins there. The Wedge Co-op, which Flannery said has been a fantastic partner, has no more space for additional city organics bins.

As a result, LHENA is looking for more friends to join Compost Buddies.

The idea behind Compost Buddies is pretty simple. Homeowners have bins for organics recycling that are collected weekly by the city. Renters in buildings with more than four units largely do not, and such renters make up the majority of Wedge residents. The program pairs renters with willing homeowners who live nearby, and the renters drop their organic materials in their buddy’s bin.

When people sign up, Flannery pulls out a map of homeowners and renters who are part of the program and tries to pair people who live within a couple blocks of each other.

Those with bins let their buddies know via text or email when they’re putting out for collection. Most don’t have to interact in person.

“Are you my Kelley?” Bernadette Knaeble asked when Kelley Skumautz sat down for a group interview.

Skumautz, who lives in an apartment building, has been dropping her organic waste in Knaeble’s bin for about nine months. While the two communicate regularly via email, they’d never before come face-to-face.

Skumautz has been living a zero-waste lifestyle for a while now. She and her roommate keep their organic waste in old coffee tins stored in their freezer. Before getting involved with Compost Buddies, Skumautz faced uncertainty over where she’d drop the materials each week. Now she just walks down the block.

“The convenience is key,” Skumautz said.

Knaeble, a retired science teacher who is also on LHENA’s environmental committee, said she has composted in her yard for a while, but got her curbside organics bin about two years ago. She estimates that most weeks she only takes up about an eighth of the bin, and even after adding the organics from Skumautz more than half the bin is unused.

Right now, there are 13 active homeowners participating in the program with another six waiting for a buddy assignment and 17 active renters with another seven awaiting placement, Flannery said. Ten more people who don’t live in the Wedge have signed up for the program, she said, but as they aren’t close by she hasn’t been able to assign them a role.

LHENA has reached out to the city, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Minneapolis Public Schools about getting another drop-off site in the neighborhood. They’ve talked about a new site at Muller Park or Jefferson School, but so far nothing has stuck.  They’re hoping Compost Buddies can help fill the demand for organics recycling in the neighborhood.

Right now, the city offers public organic recycling drop offs in Southwest at Armatage Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Whittier Alliance offers a similar community drop-off to LHENA’s Wedge Co-op arrangement at The Wedge Table.

“We have a clear need,” Flannery said. “There is a gap for organics recycling in the community.”

They’re hopeful the Compost Buddies program can expand to other neighborhoods, too.

“This is neighborhoods problem solving,” Knaeble said.

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