Organics recycling roll-out hits halfway mark on UMN campus

Approximately three years into the initiative, 85 Twin Cities campus buildings have organics recycling.

Student Worker Bailey Krolnika sorts through organics recycling from a University residence hall at Como recycling center on Wednesday, Feb. 19.

Jasmin Kemp

Student Worker Bailey Krolnika sorts through organics recycling from a University residence hall at Como recycling center on Wednesday, Feb. 19.

Becca Most

The University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus has integrated organics recycling into almost all of its buildings, marking the approximate halfway point in the University’s goal to roll out organics recycling on the entire Twin Cities campus.

By the end of 2020, the Twin Cities campus hopes to have organics recycling in all of its buildings. Approximately three years into the initiative, 85 buildings have organics recycling, including all of the resident halls.

This organics initiative is a small part of the University’s larger goal to transition to a zero-waste campus. 

“This is the direction our world is moving,” said Elizabeth Logas-Lindstrom, the University’s recycling coordinator. “It’s moving toward more sustainable communities and thinking about the impact that we’re having on our earth and our environment.”

A majority of the University’s organics recycling materials are food waste from dining halls and animal bedding. 

One of the biggest challenges for many universities, including the University of Minnesota, is contamination in organics and recycling streams. Contamination occurs when different recyclable material is mixed together.

Allison Sawyer, the University’s organics roll-out coordinator, said the University has a goal of maintaining less than a 5% contamination rate in all organics recycling. 

Something unique about the University is it owns the trucks that bring organics, recycling and garbage to their respective facilities. Drivers also let program directors know if they see contamination in the stream.

Owning its own trucks allows the University to easily add new buildings to the program. Organics need to be picked up daily or they will start to smell.

For other Big Ten schools, like the University of Iowa, this kind of hands-on approach is just not possible. Many of the university’s dining halls have a pulper, which grinds up food scraps.

Pulping reduces the number of organics bins needed to be changed daily, something that has proved to be a logistical problem associated with limited dock space, said Beth MacKenzie, the recycling coordinator at the University of Iowa.

“I think one of the big lessons that we have learned is that when you’re implementing a program like on this scale, you can’t operate in a silo,” Sawyer said. “There is a lot of collaboration and buy-in that has to happen between different stakeholders in order to make the program successful long term.”

Part of the success of an organics recycling program involves educating students and staff and getting them engaged with initiatives, said Nathan Jandl, the assistant director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Office of Sustainability.

Like in many other schools, the UW-Madison’s Office of Sustainability offers an opt-in organics program where students and faculty can request personal compost bins for their dorm rooms or offices and empty them at designated sites around campus.

UW-Madison also has a student intern program that the sustainability office designed to give students hands-on experience working with organics, recycling and other sustainable fields.

Sustainability is important, and having a combination of grassroots efforts and institutional changes are part of what makes conservation efforts successful, said Shane Stennes, the University of Minnesota’s director of sustainability.

“Our success is derived from the fact that we have a broad base of support and we’ve done this in a collaborative fashion,” Stennes said. “It’s as much of a process as it is a destination.”