Hennepin County enacts new organics requirements, but UMN is one step ahead

The county revised its recycling ordinance to include more organics recycling, however, the University of Minnesota is already meeting the requirements.

Strategic communications sophomore Schuyler McKinley sifts through trash from Coffman Marketplace food court that wasn't already tossed into the correct recycling, compost or waste bin on Wednesday, April 18 in outside Williamson Hall.

Ellen Schmidt

Strategic communications sophomore Schuyler McKinley sifts through trash from Coffman Marketplace food court that wasn’t already tossed into the correct recycling, compost or waste bin on Wednesday, April 18 in outside Williamson Hall.

Nikki Pederson

Hennepin County recently revised its recycling ordinance to include new organics recycling for businesses that generate large quantities of food waste, such as restaurants, hotels and even the University of Minnesota.

The changes, enacted late last month, apply to businesses in certain sectors that generate one ton of trash or more per week or contract for weekly collection of eight or more cubic yards of trash. Required businesses must implement food waste recycling by January 1, 2020.Organizations are also required to provide food waste collection containers in the back-of-house, properly label them and separate food waste from trash, as well as provide training to employees. 

The University meets both of the new conditions; however, they are already in compliance with the requirements and are implementing further improvements. Organics recycling was integrated into all of the residence halls this fall and the campus plans to integrate organics recycling into waste stations across campus, said Shane Stennes, the University’s director of sustainability.

“We’ve done a few buildings so far, and we’re in the process of doing the remaining ones over the course of the next 18 to 24 months,” he said.

There is also a financial incentive for organizations like the University to comply with organics recycling. When the University brings in organics to Hennepin County’s station, they are charged about $25 a ton, said John Jaimez, an organics and recycling specialist for Hennepin County.

“That material is exempt from county solid waste fees and state solid waste taxes,” Jaimez said. Compare that to trash, which is charged $58 a ton and includes county and state fees, and businesses have the opportunity to save money, he said. 

The requirements come after a debate on how to meet statewide standards by 2030. Since 2010, the proportion of organics that are being diverted out of the trash has remained flat, at roughly 10 percent. That needs to increase to 15 percent by 2030, which is a long way to go, Jaimez said. 

“We’ve been actively engaged for 15 years, we put forth a great amount of effort to promote organics recycling and we have multiples years of data to show that we’ve essentially plateaued,” he said. But he added that something his team hears frequently is, “I probably won’t do it unless I’m required to do it.” 

While city and county-wide practices are important, research has shown that large corporations and producers share the climate accountability. A report released last year found that just 100 companies, such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, are responsible for over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Outside of climate change, the uses for organics are expansive. Full of minerals and nutrients, compost can help rejuvenate soil and even aid construction projects. The Minnesota Department of Transportation uses compost to reduce runoff and soil erosion, and the University uses it in landscaping and gardening on campus. 

“I think everyone should participate in organics services,” said Sami Kinnunen, a graduate student at the University. “There is no downside to doing it — it makes the city prettier and [there is] less waste going into the garbage can.”

Kinnunen started recycling organics in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. 

“We as a society are making too much waste, so why not try to reduce that as much as possible?” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is thrown away, which can lead to more problems. It can take more than 40 years for organic matter, such as paper or food, to decompose in a landfill. When waste breaks down, it releases methane gas, which has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the University Dining website.