Minneapolis to see fee hike for citywide organic-waste recycling program

MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
Taking household organic waste collection citywide, using the green bins shown above, is the next step in a half-decade effort by city solid-waste staff and some council members to begin reducing the waste that is disposed of or incinerated.

Last week the Minneapolis City Council spent several hours debating a reduced property-tax levy that would save the owner of the $180,000 median-priced house about $2.50 a year.

This week, it will likely spend much less time on another piece of the 2015 budget that brings with it a fee increase of $48 a year for every household — regardless of income, regardless of home value. And while all households will pay the fee, about 40 percent are expected to take advantage of the new service the money funds.

The fee is the proposed increase in city solid-waste bills to pay for a new citywide program to collect household organic waste — food scraps, food-soiled paper, compostable plastics, even dryer lint — at the alley or curb. The program startup was proposed in Mayor Betsy Hodges’ August budget at $8 million, $5.1 million of which is for one-time purchase of trucks and organics carts.

The fee isn’t easy to find in budget documents. It is referenced only a few times and the most specific explanation is found by following an asterisk in a chart outlining how the average monthly combined utility bill will increase from $82.52 a month to $88.19, with most of that coming in fees for the waste and recycling program.

“The large increase in the monthly charge is due to incorporating organics recycling,” the chart explains. Should the fee schedule be approved by the council, it will take effect Jan. 1.

While the cost hasn’t been talked about much, the program itself — known in waste-management circles as source-separated organics or SSO — has been on the city and county’s agenda for several years. Taking collection citywide is the next step in a half-decade effort by city solid-waste staff and some council members to begin reducing the waste that is disposed of or incinerated. The city already collects recyclable materials and picks up yard waste in the spring, summer and fall. But staff estimates that about one-third of what shows up in garbage cans is organic and could be composted.

Organics collection is also being pushed with carrot-and-stick incentives by Hennepin County, which handles waste for the metro area. The county has signed two contracts to process organic materials. And earlier this year it adopted an ordinance requiring Minneapolis to adopt organics collection citywide by Jan. 1 or lose some or all of its share of state money devoted to developing recycling programs.

Starting in 2008, a pilot program tested organics collection beginning in Linden Hills. It was expanded to East Calhoun the next year to parts of Cooper, Hiawatha, Howe, Longfellow, Phillips and Seward in 2010, and now covers about 8 percent of the city. In addition, five organics drop-off stations were added for residents outside the pilot-project neighborhoods.

David Herberholz, director of the city’s division of solid waste, said if the program fees are adopted by council, the city will purchase 11 new trucks and purchase 60,000 new collection carts. Of those, 50,000 will be green organics carts and 10,000 will be smaller cans for regular garbage disposal. Herberholz said those will be needed as residents who use the separate organics carts decide they don’t need as much space for garbage. The smaller garbage containers can save a residence $3 a month, close to matching the increase for organics collection.

It will take up to five months to have the new carts delivered and eight months to have new trucks delivered, pushing out the start date to late summer. About a quarter of the expected participants will be served starting in September. The remaining three-quarters of residences are expected to be added in May, 2016.

Other cities that have begun organics collection have commingled it with yard waste — grass clippings, leaves and branches. Herberholz said a familiar pest makes that unworkable in Minneapolis: the emerald ash borer.  All yard waste in the quarantine zone must be ground to particles less than 1 inch in size to make sure the pest is destroyed. Even if organics could be collected together with yard waste, there are months in Minnesota where very little yard waste is generated and collection stops.

At a briefing of the council’s Transportation and Public Works committee last spring, Council Member Cam Gordon noted that the program would be opt in to use it but everyone would pay.

“It’s a mandatory pay but a voluntary participation,” Herberholz said last week. “But the only way to roll it out in an economic manner was to have everyone pay.” Several council members wanted a more-robust education and outreach campaign to boost participation and staff will set  aside $400,000 for mailing, an initial supply of compostable bags for residents and video tutorials on the new program, Herberholz said.

Ramsey County’s solid waste management plan calls for cities in the county to have some form of organics collection by 2017. But Zack Hansen, the county’s environmental health director, said that doesn’t necessarily require curbside. The county offers free organics collection at its six yard waste drop off centers. And because the county requires organics to be separated into compostable bags, it offer the bags to residents free of charge.

St. Paul advised residents to either have at-home composting or use the county drop off locations. It does have policies in place to add organics collection to its recycling program and is expecting to add it to household pickup beginning in January of 2017.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Gary Thaden on 12/08/2014 - 10:59 am.

    Organic waste recycling

    So am I going to get a $100 credit for the composing system i have set and been using? Can i opt-out by composting my organic waste? Or, should I just throw my composing system into the waste stream since the city is mandating i use their system, even though the city is the one who wanted me to set up the composting system to begin with. Bait and switch.

  2. Submitted by Alan Muller on 12/08/2014 - 11:06 am.

    Sort of one-sided…..

    It would be nice to see the views of some independent advocates included in a story like this…..

    Organics collection is happening (?) because it was demanded of the City by Hennepin County, but nobody is going to learn this from reading this story…..

    • Submitted by Morgan Bird on 12/10/2014 - 10:54 am.

      Did you read the story?

      It’s covered right in the middle:

      “Organics collection is also being pushed with carrot-and-stick incentives by Hennepin County, which handles waste for the metro area. The county has signed two contracts to process organic materials. And earlier this year it adopted an ordinance requiring Minneapolis to adopt organics collection citywide by Jan. 1 or lose some or all of its share of state money devoted to developing recycling programs.”

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/08/2014 - 11:55 am.

    Waste Not

    What’s with all the huff & gruff about organic waste recycling? We’ve had it in St. Louis Park for over a year now and I have yet to see any complaints about who initiated the project or what we do with our old yard bins. I’ve got three compost bins out back of the garage (down from four), but now everything goes into a bin the city provided and it gets picked up every two weeks.

    As far as Hennepin County’s mandate goes, that just makes good sense. Why throw something in the garbage to be burned or buried when it can just as easily go to a composting site and get turned into rich dirt? I’m not sure how Minneapolis is going to fit in, but in St. Louis Park we can head over to the city wood chipping site and get a load of rich dark compost every spring to spread on our gardens. So it’s not all cost with no benefit.

    Personally, I like it that the city picks up as it means I don’t have to tend to my bins anymore. Plus I can toss more material in there, such as meat and cheese scraps, which you can’t do in your back yard in as they don’t get hot enough.

    I still kept my worms in the basement though. They’re cute little guys and help chow down on the banana peels.

  4. Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 12/08/2014 - 01:24 pm.


    Isn’t it something that a city with subpar schools, increasing congestion and a police force that prompts people to lie down on an interstate in protest finds time for this. We already pay more in taxes than homes in the suburbs. We’re subsidizing three stadia. Trains will plow through wooded areas just to benefit suburban interests not areas that could use transit and development. Now this. It would be nice if the mayor would take time from posing for inopportune get-out-the-vote photos to actually stand up for her constituents.

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 12/08/2014 - 02:23 pm.

    Hey! Let’s be more careful in our reading:

    It was Hennepin County that has insisted that Minneapolis implement organics recycling by January 1, 2015. Minneapolis had no plans to go any further for the nonce than a few pilot programs in “progressive” (upscale) neighborhoods, which have been ongoing forever. But Minneapolis folks who actually breathe the air insisted that the county’s garbage burner in downtown Minneapolis not be allowed to burn more county garbage (trucked in), so Hennepin County agreed to withdraw its request to increase the burning capacity only if Minneapolis recycled organics.

    The county threatened to withhold many hundred of thousands of dollars–maybe more– from the city’s regular recycling funding, if Minneapolis didn’t go along.

    If you don’t like the recycling fee, maybe you should move to a large apartment building or buy a condo: multi-unit buildings in Minneapolis still are not subject to the per-household unit organics recycling fee, just as they don’t have to recycle plastics or metal or paper, or pay that fee, either.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/08/2014 - 04:19 pm.

    Careful reading

    …indeed. It’s inexcusable that multi-unit buildings don’t have to recycle plastics, metal and paper, or pay the fee.

    And for the record, as an old single guy who rarely has any compostable organic waste, I find myself wondering why I’ll be paying for organic waste pickup whether I recycle organic waste or not, but “ordinary” recycling of metal, plastic and paper, doesn’t have that same fee structure. To my knowledge, people who don’t recycle those materials pay nothing. Why?

  7. Submitted by Miriam Segall on 12/08/2014 - 06:56 pm.

    Organics recycling

    I live in Minneapolis, and I signed a petition to implement organic waste recycling a couple of years ago and have regretted it ever since. If anybody is really concerned about the volume of waste being burned, the first target should be any kind of recycling in multi-unit buildings, especially since the city is pushing that type of housing as hard as it can.

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 12/09/2014 - 03:44 pm.

      My current apartment and the previous one both have recycling in place. I know they don’t all have it, but there are plenty that do.

      I am kind of wondering how my building now would do organics though, since it only has two chutes–one for garbage and one for recycling. I guess apartment dwellers don’t get to compost?

  8. Submitted by Michael Hess on 12/08/2014 - 07:04 pm.

    whats more…..

    Fees start Jan 1. Many won’t even get the service for 18 months. Substantial startup costs for another fleet of trucks. But no phasing in of the fees! Even if you wanted to use it you get to pay but its not available.

  9. Submitted by Lauri Kraft on 12/10/2014 - 10:31 am.

    offsetting the cost

    I wish articles like this one would make it clear up front that by downsizing their garbage carts, people can offset the cost of organics recycling. It’s mentioned about halfway through the article, but a smaller trash cart saves $3/month.

    With a smaller cart, residents end up offsetting most of the $48 annual cost for organics recycling. That leaves a balance of only $12/year: a dollar a month, which is very reasonable.

    I’m in St. Louis Park, which already has curbside organics collection. We downsized to a 20-gallon trash cart for a family of four, and we don’t even end up filling that. I’d say we have twice as much organics waste as we do trash.

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