Organics recycling increases among Southwest businesses

New county requirements expected to boost participation

Organics recycling
Organics recycling

At France 44 in Linden Hills, employee Melissa Waskeiewicz collects packing peanuts and excess crinkle-cut paper in an organics bin as she packs gift baskets.

Down the hall, workers preparing food toss vegetable peels and other food scraps into an organics bin. Customers in the store’s cafe throw food scraps into an organics bin next to the busing station.

Across Southwest Minneapolis, more businesses, building owners and nonprofits have begun recycling their organic waste in recent years, a trend that mirrors increased participation among area homeowners and renters.

This year, even more businesses and institutions will start doing so, thanks to a revised Hennepin County recycling ordinance that took effect Jan. 1. The ordinance requires businesses and institutions that generate more than eight cubic yards of waste or one ton of waste per week, from grocery stores and restaurants to nursing homes and shopping centers, to recycle their organic waste.

It impacts about 3,000 to 3,500 businesses and organizations, though many neighborhood restaurants do not generate enough waste to be covered, county waste-reduction and recycling specialist Mallory Anderson said.

She estimated that about half of those businesses are restaurants and that a “good third” of them are in Minneapolis.

There are two ways businesses and organizations can meet the requirements: by contracting with an organics hauler or by participating in a food-to-animals program. They can also donate their unused food in combination with another method.

A handful of restaurants said they’ve already implemented organics recycling or don’t generate enough waste to fall under the county requirement.

Those that already recycle organics said it takes some education but generally isn’t too difficult.

Kim Bartmann, who owns nine restaurants, including Barbette, Bread & Pickle, Pat’s Tap and Book Club, was part of a organics pilot study with the city and Hennepin County in 2008. All of her restaurants have been composting since the pilot study.

Bartmann said there was no increased cost to implement organics, since it was cheaper at the time to haul compost versus garbage. She said staff training is important to implementing organics recycling.

Danny Schwartzman’s Common Roots Cafe at 26th & Lyndale was also part of the pilot. Common Roots has continued collecting organics since, and it diverted over 45,000 pounds in one calendar year, he said.

Schwartzman said it’s easier nowadays to find compostable materials, though he said compostable trash liners remain expensive. He said his restaurant composts waste from the events it caters.

At France 44, organics recycling was implemented in 2019 and was one of a series of environmentally conscious upgrades the store made, Waskeiewicz said. She said the higher cost of compostable trash liners is a downside but that her store’s owners have supported the move.

City Church in the Kenny neighborhood started recycling organics in 2016, with help from a Hennepin County business recycling grant.

In a 2017 report to the county, the church reported a dramatic reduction in waste heading to the landfill after implementing the program.

Kara Coffler, pastor of community outreach and operations, said the church renegotiated its contract with its trash hauler so it didn’t have to pay more. She added that it has been fun to see the church youth take the lead.

“The kids and the teens really get why it’s important and how to do it,” she said.

Preventing methane release

Composting has become much more popular in the U.S. since the 1990s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In Minneapolis, residents of one-, two-, three- and four-family homes are eligible to participate in the city’s curbside organics-collection program for no cost. Over 46% of eligible households had signed up for the program as of December 2018.

There is no organized citywide collection of organics for buildings with more than four units. A 2011 city ordinance requires businesses to provide recycling containers, but there is no such requirement for organics.

Anderson said the main goal of the county’s new requirement is to ensure that waste is being “repurposed into something useful.” She noted the metrowide goal of recycling 75% of waste by 2030.

“This is just that first step in really making [organics recycling] a more easy and common practice,” she said, adding that it will help organics haulers develop pickup routes.

Unlike trash, there are no county and state taxes on organics hauling, though businesses and institutions are responsible for any additional cost of hauling organics. The county offers grants to help businesses with recycling programs.

Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene, who represents Southwest Minneapolis, said organic waste in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas that traps more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

She said the county is working with residents to figure out ways to make organics recycling “the easy choice.”

Food waste represents close to 40% of all trash generated, said Julie Ketchum, who works in public affairs for Waste Management.

“We view this as a great opportunity to recycle more,” she said.

More information about the revised ordinance and county grants available to businesses can be found at hennepin.us/businessorganics.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the time period in which Common Roots Cafe diverted over 45,000 pounds of organic material.