State Fair should reduce waste, compost

Alia Jeraj

This year’s Great Minnesota Get-Together ended on Monday, leaving almost 1.8 million people across the state with lighter wallets, heavier stomachs and an already-brewing anticipation for next year’s State Fair. But the Minnesota State Fair also left us with tons of trash — last year, it was 650 tons. While fairgoers feasted on mini donuts and everything-on-a-stick, they slowly filled the more than 1,100 trash bins on site with the remnants.
 
I spent 12 days working at a food stand at the fair. I watched as my company carelessly threw away everything from a cup that touched the ground for a split second to food someone returned to us because it was too cold. I grimaced as I contributed to the waste, favoring speed and convenience over my sense of environmental responsibility.
 
The trash collected at the fair is headed directly to an incinerator, where its burning will result in heavy emissions of carbon dioxide. The fair began in 1855 with the mission of promoting the state’s agriculture, which we cannot sustain with a disregard for the environment. 
 
Rather than perpetuate the irony of contributing to the destruction of the earth, the fair needs to take serious measures to reduce its waste. 
 
We need to take the food scraps, empty cups and food boats and transform them into regenerative material to feed back into the earth and help our farmers produce even better crops for next year’s harvest.
 
Farmers have used methods of composting since the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. 
 
Nowadays, with our increased technology, composting is more accessible than ever before. In fact, Ramsey County, home of the State Fair, already has a composting system in place. There are multiple drop-off sites for St. Paul residents to deposit their yard waste, food scraps, nonrecyclable paper and compostable dishware. 
 
Some may speculate that the point of advancing our technology is to forego the need for ancient farming techniques, such as composting. However, composting materials that we would otherwise burn not only prevents more carbon dioxide from entering the air, but doing so also greatly benefits farmers — especially those who use organic farming practices. 
 
Compost enriches soil, encouraging the production of nutrients necessary for healthy crops. It also helps to purify soil that was contaminated with nonorganic materials such as pesticides and wood preservatives. Compost can even help prevent the spread of these materials into our water sources, which helps curb erosion and silting — two phenomena that are extremely harmful to our earth and agriculture. 
 
It’s true that the State Fair is taking steps to reduce the amount of waste it produces. The fair has been recycling since the 1980s, and there’s also 
a much newer corncob composting program. 
 
However, if Minnesota wants to continue the fair’s mission to support local agriculture, we need to do more to increase composting efforts and decrease waste. The mission is more than possible as long as there is the motivation to realize it. After more than 160 years of the State Fair’s conception, the time has come for us to transform its trail of garbage into a trail of compost.