Neighborhood works to reduce landfill waste

The program was funded by a grant in conjunction with Hennepin County.

Frank

Residents of the Linden Hills neighborhood in Minneapolis are leading the way in efforts to reduce the amount of waste in landfills. The neighborhood, consisting of more than 2,500 households, is participating in a residential Source Separated Organics pilot collection program run by the city of Minneapolis, but the programâÄôs cost-effectiveness has raised issues for the companies that dispose of the compost. The pilot program, with a goal of waste reduction at Hennepin County landfills, asks residents to sort compostable items that cannot be recycled, such as pizza boxes and food scraps, from other waste. The Linden Hills neighborhood diverts five tons of trash a week through the program. âÄúOnce you start doing it, there are very few things that are non-recyclable and non-compostable,âÄù Keiko Veasey, a âÄúCompost CaptainâÄù on her block, said. Veasey is responsible for creating interest in the program on her block as well as acting as a primary point person for questions from neighbors. Interest in the program has not been difficult to garner. A majority of residents already have personal composters in their backyards, Veasey said. Discussions to participate in the pilot program began early last year by Linden Hills Power & Light, a neighborhood organization aimed at reducing the communityâÄôs carbon footprint. From there, LHP&L approached the city of Minneapolis and Susan Young, director of Solid Waste and Recycling for the city, about participating in the pilot program. The program, funded by a grant in conjunction with Hennepin County and Minneapolis, is part of the countyâÄôs master plan to reduce the amount of waste material in landfills. The city was excited to hear that a neighborhood voluntarily asked to participate in the program, LHP&L Executive Director Felicity Britton said. âÄúWe wanted to give neighbors a heads up and to pay attention that a program like this might be coming down the pipe,âÄù Veasey said. The program, which is completely voluntary, gives residents a curbside bin, free of charge. The bin collects the organic waste, which is then picked up along with regular trash and recycling every week. Collections started in September of 2008. The curbside organic recycling is also proving beneficial to residents who already have their own personal composters, Veasey said. Organic waste, such as meat scraps, dirty pizza boxes and wax paper, cannot be put in a backyard composter because of pest issues but can be thrown into the organic waste bin. âÄúEvery time I hand something to my kids, theyâÄôll ask if it belongs in compost or trash,âÄù Veasey said. âÄúIt quickly becomes the new norm.âÄù Because of the SSO program, Veasey has significantly reduced the volume of trash every week, including downsizing from a large garage cart to a smaller one, saving her money every month. While the program has been effective in reducing the volume of trash, problems over the cost-effectiveness of the program have arisen. âÄúThere isnâÄôt any place right now that could take 20,000 tons of Minneapolis waste to separate into organic to compost,âÄù Young said. In the Robbinsdale and Hopkins school districts, an organic recycling program has been running for more than five years, but all the money saved through reducing waste has been used to pay for transportation of the organic waste, Young said. As truck after truck of organic waste continue to be transported to a Brooklyn Park composting plant, the Linden Hills neighborhood is looking into building a âÄúCommunity Energy Garden,âÄù something that will be able to fuel the neighborhood with the organic waste. The Community Energy Garden combines an anaerobic digester, which composts organic waste, with a greenhouse. The anaerobic digester will compost the biodegradable material, which will then produce methane and carbon dioxide that will be used to heat the greenhouse. Britton hopes the greenhouse will then be able to grow healthy food as well as provide jobs and training to residents. The $3.5 million digester is too expensive for LHP&L, but Britton hopes that the city, the University of Minnesota and Hennepin County will come to their aid. Although Young said she supports the digester idea, there are many issues to consider, including land. The anaerobic digester will need around two to three acres of land, and because the digester produces methane, Young believes it will be hard to convince anyone to live around it. The Linden Hills neighborhood is not the only group in Minneapolis trying out organic recycling. The East Calhoun neighborhood has been part of the SSO pilot program since August, and 21 schools in Minneapolis are also participating in organic recycling. âÄúItâÄôs all about community engagement,âÄù Britton said. âÄúWhen you drive down the streets and you see all the green carts out, it gives you a sense of neighborhood pride and of people coming together and trying to make a difference.âÄù