Hennepin County is set to become the first county in the state to require businesses to recycle organic waste.
By the end of the year, the County Board is expected to approve an ordinance that will require businesses ranging from restaurants to hospitals to compost by 2020. It also will require cities with more than 10,000 residents to offer curbside organic recycling by 2022.
The new ordinance was triggered by a state mandate that counties recycle 75 percent of their waste by 2030.
“We want to get out of the landfill business,” Commissioner Mike Opat said. “This is the next step in the evolution of how we deal with our garbage.”
The ordinance will be the first major change in the county’s recycling regulations since they were instituted in 1986. It was developed during a series of meetings and public hearings with residents, city officials and property and business owners. Opat estimated that about 30 percent of landfill waste is organic material.
For cities with more than 10,000 people, curbside service must be offered for residential buildings that have up to four units, and smaller cities must provide at least one organic drop-off site. Minneapolis has offered residential curbside organic recycling services for two years, and 46 percent of its residents participate.
“By recycling, we believe people will eventually get smaller garbage carts and recoup the costs,” said David McNary, assistant director of the county’s environment and energy department. “The county will now spend the next several years with outreach and engagement to help make this successful.”
Under the new ordinance, businesses — grocery stores, hotels, sports venues, nursing homes, office buildings with dining services, food shelves, colleges and schools, shopping centers or airports — will have to recycle organic waste if they generate at least one ton of trash per week. Employees will have to take education classes each year.
Cities will be responsible for enforcing the ordinance, and failure to recycle could result in a fine. For a first offense, the county would rather educate than penalize, McNary said. There will be a provision for businesses that wish to be exempt.
‘The right thing to do’
David Rech, longtime owner of Culver’s on Peony Lane in Plymouth, has been recycling organics at his restaurant for 2 ½ years because, he said, “it’s the right thing to do.” He has reduced his waste bill by $250 a month, he said. Some customers tell him they eat there because he recycles.
“It was easy to train our staff because they are younger and probably already do recycling at home or school,” he said. “About 95 percent of the waste on the customer’s tray goes into recycling.”
At a recent public hearing before the County Board, about two dozen people expressed either support for the organics program or concern about its potential pitfalls.
Some wanted the county to make all residents opt in. Voicing a different view, Thomas Masaar, who works at a Minneapolis nursing home, expressed concern that organic bins would stink up the center’s heavily used patio and attract rats.
Representatives from SuperValu and Lunds & Byerlys grocery stores and the Greater Minneapolis Building Owners and Managers Association supported the ordinance but said employee turnover makes training difficult and that composting facilities may not be able to handle more business.
There are fewer than 10 haulers that handle organic waste, and two processing facilities, in the Twin Cities. A third recently closed in Becker, Minn., but could reopen if demand dictated, said Dave Herberholz, solid waste and recycling director in Minneapolis.
Ginny Black, chairwoman of the Minnesota Composting Council, said the Hennepin County Board had done a pretty good job of crafting a new organic ordinance. She said that finding a revenue stream for composting facilities will be key to its success. The county gets $3 million annually from the state for its recycling program, which covers less than half the operating costs.
“We are proud of our staff for getting out in front of this issue,” Opat said. “People will need time to process how to do this. It’s a little messier than regular recycling, but it will happen.”