Recycling, composting, organics recycling – what do these all mean and why is it important? In 2020, 32% of Hennepin County’s solid waste ended up in the landfill, while 42% was recycled (26% traditional recycling and 16% organic recycling). The remaining 26% was categorized as waste-to-energy, meaning it was burned to create energy in the form of steam, for example. The county’s Solid Waste Management Master Plan has an impressive goal of recycling 75% of solid waste by 2030. So, what can you do to help achieve this goal?
Recycling is an easy method to keep waste out of landfills. It puts materials back into the market to be made into new products again. Since raw materials don’t need to be mined, it decreases the strain on the environment. Recycling also supports the economy by contributing to jobs, wages, and tax revenue.
Recycling technology is pretty amazing – think scanners that sort by the shape of an object, or optical sorters that help detect the composition. But, recycling still requires humans to help pick out contamination. How can we be better at not sending contaminated material to our recycling facilities?
– Just because an item has the “chasing arrows” symbol, doesn’t necessarily mean you can recycle it, it just tells us what type of plastic it is made of; check with your specific hauler for what type of plastics they do accept
– Plastic bags (typically #4 – the “stretchy” ones like bread bags, toilet paper packages, bubble wrap), cannot be put in your curbside collection, but they can be dropped off at most major grocery stores to be recycled; please don’t bag your recyclables and put them in your cart
– All recycling should be dry and clean
– Leave labels on cans and caps on containers; this includes glass jars, plastic and metal containers
– Black plastics (typically found as microwaveable food trays) cannot be recycled; the optical scanners at recycling facilities cannot read the black plastic, since black doesn’t reflect light
– Shredded paper should be thrown in the trash, since the bits drop between the conveyor belts and make a huge mess
– Egg cartons shouldn’t be recycled since the short fibers used to make them are at their end of life; donate to a farmer (Marshall’s Farm Market takes the dozen size cartons), PROP Food Shelf, or school for art projects
– Avoid recycling anything smaller than your fist or a Post-It note; items that are too small can jam the machinery
Composting can sound intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a lot easier. Compost is simply decayed organic matter – like food and yard waste. Done at home, you can compost in your backyard using a rotating or tumbling bin, a stationary bin, or simply a pile. Apartment dweller or short on space? You can compost indoors using worms! Vermicomposting uses worms to convert food scraps into compost in a very short amount of time.
Backyard composting goes a long way in removing food waste from landfills. If you’re like many people in thinking that food decomposes quickly in a landfill, guess again. Composting works because there is a balance of materials (carbon and nitrogen), water, and oxygen. When you landfill something, it gets buried under layers of clay, dirt, gravel, plastic landfill liners, plastic garbage bags, and it never gets turned or rotated. As a result, harmful gases like methane are emitted. When done correctly, composting in aerobic conditions does not create methane.
What can you do with finished compost? Compost is full of nutrients that enrich the soil. It helps promote healthy plant growth, making it the perfect addition to gardens and other plantings. Because of its high organic content, it helps soil retain moisture, nutrients, and air.
– When backyard composting, you shouldn’t put items like dairy, bones, meat, fats, or non-certified compostable paper products into your pile; your pile simply won’t get hot enough to decompose those items, and you don’t want to attract unwanted wildlife!
– Don’t put anything in your compost pile that has chemicals on it, like paper towels soiled with household cleaner
– Try not to get so caught up on getting the perfect balance of ‘browns’ (paper, twigs, dry leaves) and ‘greens’ (food scraps, dry grass clippings); if your pile is too dry, try adding more greens, if it’s too wet, add more browns
– There are different types of compost containers, so shop around, read reviews, and you’ll find a method you can adapt
– Get in the habit of having containers in places like your kitchen and bathrooms, so that you collect compostable items and transfer to your larger container
– You can continue composting during the winter; everything may be frozen, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly the pile shrinks down once spring comes along
– The smaller the pieces in your compost pile, the faster the pile will decompose
Organics recycling is similar to composting, in that organic matter is being broken down. However, organics recycling is set up to include all food scraps, non-recyclable paper products, and certified compostable plastics. How is this possible? Organic recycling occurs at industrial-sized composting facilities, such as SMSC Organics Recycling Facility in Shakopee. These types of facilities have special equipment to grind, mix, screen and turn organic material. They can even monitor and control moisture, temperature, and airflow.
Starting November 1, 2021, all waste haulers servicing Eden Prairie will be offering curbside collection of organics! This is in thanks to county Ordinance 13, which requires all cities to provide this service to its residents. What does this mean for you?
– You’ll need to contact your waste hauler to add this service to your account
– The City of Eden Prairie is offering a $50 rebate to residents who sign up for at least a year of organics recycling (the rebate will be applied to your utility bill account); you must fill out a rebate application at: https://www.edenprairie.org/community/sustainable-eden-prairie/waste/organics-recycling; rebates will be applied on a first-come, first-served basis
– Each hauler may differ in how they operate the program; some may give you a separate receptacle to roll out to the curb each week, others may outfit you with compostable bags that you fill and place inside of your regular trash cart to be separated at their facility
– Make sure you only use BPI certified compostable bags when you place your items out for pick up
– You’ll be able to compost all food scraps without restrictions (sorry, no yard waste allowed)
– If you don’t want the work, or have to space to backyard compost, this is a perfect solution for you!
This is an exciting time for the world of recycling, composting, and organic recycling! Whether you participate in any of these activities to be less wasteful, divert waste from landfills, or help the environment, know that it all makes an impact. Anything you can do to prevent waste from being created in the first place is the best answer. Reusing would be the next best thing. If you cannot reduce or reuse, recycling and composting should be considered. Sure, it can be intimidating. Start small, be consistent, and in no time, it will all become habit for you and your family. You got this!
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