Food scrap composting coming to Ramsey County

By Anne Holzman

Ramsey County is gearing up a system for separating food scraps from non-compostable trash in residential garbage bins.

And Falcon Heights might become a test site for the program.

When the program gets going, residents will be provided with compostable food scrap bags, to be replaced upon request at no charge. Residents will put their food scraps in the bags and toss them into their regular garbage cans. The bags will be mechanically retrieved after haulers drop them off for processing. Participation by residents will be voluntary and free of charge.

The bags of food scraps will go to composting businesses, which market their product for uses including landscaping and agriculture. There is also the possibility of anaerobic digestion in the future, according to Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy, the partnership entity between counties that is running the program.

The bags are several times as thick as the bags currently in use for various drop-off programs for organic household waste. They are designed to hold up for a week in the trash and withstand the pickup process.

The goal of the program is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from organics in garbage.

At the Jan. 26 meeting of the Falcon Heights City Council, Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo described the plan and said she has been advocating for Falcon Heights as a pilot community. As of mid-March, the pilot community had not yet been selected.

Haulers will not need to change what they’re doing, Recycling and Energy spokesperson Andrea McKennan told the Bugle. Residents are free to participate as they choose to. Cities do not need to opt in or out of the program. The goal is 40% participation in the county.

The food scraps bags will only be offered to residents in the first phases, but the county is exploring the possibility of including businesses, likely charging a small fee.

McKennan noted that unlike programs requiring separate carts for organics, this one will be available to apartment dwellers because there is no change to the number of disposal receptacles. This system also saves the expense of distributing an extra cart to every household.

McKennan said that while they’re starting with a pilot, “The program is definitely coming to all residents of Ramsey and Washington counties.” She said the pilot will give R&E an opportunity to test their systems for distributing bags, sorting trash, and other aspects of the program. They’ll adjust their practices based on the pilot before rolling out the system to all cities in Ramsey and Washington counties.

The county expects to run the pilot in 2022, then expand it in stages during 2023.

Funding will come from the County Environmental Charge that each county lists on waste collection bills, the fees that haulers pay to dispose of their loads at the Recycling and Energy Center, and a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency funded by the 2020 state bonding bill. 

Anne Holzman is a freelance writer for the Bugle.

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