Starting in April, some Columbia Heights residents might be putting three refuse containers out at the curb instead of two. April signals the start of the city’s curbside organics recycling program—a voluntary effort designed to augment its trash and recyclables pickup.
What goes into an organics recycling bin? Practically everything that comprises a meal, from your breakfast eggs, cereal, and coffee to the fruit, vegetable salad and cheeseburger you had for dinner. You can also include the egg shells, egg carton, coffee grounds, coffee filter… even the paper napkins and paper towels.
Jesse Davies, Columbia Heights Public Works department, said the impetus for the new program is two fold. First, solid waste recycling is a state mandate; the Legislature directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to recycle 75 percent of solid waste by 2030. (Organics comprises about a third of the state’s solid waste.) Second—and close to home—the new organics recycling program could save Columbia Heights some money, because the city pays for trash disposal by the pound. Last year, it paid $75 a ton, and disposed of 7,000 tons. With organics recycling, city officials estimate they could save about $175,000 a year.
Heights has been accepting organic waste at its recycling drop-off center, Madison Street and 38th Place NE, since 2015. Davies said that once curbside organics pickup begins, the center’s drop-off service will end.
The city bills residents quarterly for garbage and recycling pickup. Unlike trash pickup and recycling—which residents pay for whether they recycle or not—organics recycling is voluntary. Residents can sign up for it through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; bins cost $2.50 a month.
Davies said the new program might benefit residents in a couple of ways. Upon sign up, they get a free starter kit that includes a small bin for under the kitchen sink and an introductory set of 2.5- to 3-gallon bags in which to put the waste. Additional bags, which bear the BPI symbol and are vegetable oil-based instead of plastic, are available in grocery stores and home improvement stores.
Another plus is that residents can now put yard waste into the organics containers instead of bagging it. (People can still put out leaf bags, if they have more leaves than fit into the containers.) Pickups will be year round; in the past, leaf pickups started in early April and ran weekly through Thanksgiving week. The new organics pick up schedule will be every other week during the winter. Davies said that the same trucks that have picked up leaves and yard waste will collect the organics.
Because some things that people have been putting in the trash can now go into the organics recycling bin, they will likely be throwing out less trash. Davies said that if someone now has a 60-gallon trash bin, they might choose to downsize to a 30-gallon bin, which is slightly cheaper. Another money-saving option will be available later this year, when the city offers every-other-week trash service in conjunction with organics recycling. Currently, trash service is weekly, and recycling pickup is every other week.
Incidentally, the bins all look different: trash containers are green, recycling bins have red lids, and the new organic bins will have grey lids.
Another benefit to residents who choose to recycle organics is that for a $3 donation, they can get a 20-pound bag of compost—created from Heights’ own organics—that has been processed at an industrial organics recycling facility (SMSC Organics Recycling Facility in Shakopee) and returned to the city.
The donation goes to the Columbia Heights High School’s Key Club, which participates in the Minnesota Composting Council’s program, “Plate to Garden Compost,” as a fundraiser. Davies said the compost is only available to people enrolled in the city’s organics recycling program. The school contact is Dale Schultze of the Columbia Heights-Fridley Kiwanis Club.
The city has detailed lists available, in print and online, of what constitutes trash, recyclables, and organics.
On the organics list, in addition to food waste – meat, fish, bones, pasta, beans, rice, dairy products, fruit and vegetables – there are other household items that are inedible, yet compostable. That includes hair and nail clippings, cotton balls without chemicals on them (no nail polish remover), houseplants and flowers, tea bags, and wood items: chopsticks, popsicle sticks, toothpicks.
Paper products can go into the organics bin, but only if they are compostable, with BPI or Cedar Grove logos. Food-soiled paper and facial tissues may also be included, as can pizza delivery boxes. Frozen pizza boxes and other frozen food boxes, which are wax-coated, however, are considered trash, not organic compost.
Organics recycling bins are also available to apartment buildings, condos and townhomes. The organics recycling program is scheduled to start April 2, 2018, if there is no snow on the ground. For more information, go to https://www.columbiaheightsmn.gov/departments/public_works/refuse_and_recycling/departments/public_works/yard_waste_organics.php or call Davies at 763-706-3700.
Below: Trash containers are all green, recycling bins have red lids, and the new organic bins will have grey lids. (Photo by Gail Olson)