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Community Matters

What is the Big Deal About Organic Waste?
Backyard compost bin

​Did you know that Twin Cities residents produce enough trash each year to fill the Metrodome 11 times? 

And did you know that 60 percent of all waste produced in the Twin Cities is not recycled and ends up in landfills or incinerators?

As a recent convert to composting, I was pleased to discover the significant benefits of composting in reducing waste. As I worked on a project for the City of Saint Paul about recycling and waste management, I learned that about 30 percent of household waste is organic, including food waste and non-recyclable paper, and can be composted. I was amazed how much less trash my family produces now that we compost (we started in earnest last year after a few prior failed attempts). This also created an opportunity for my family to switch to a smaller trash bin and save (nominally) on our monthly trash bill.

Organic materials are just wasted when put into regular trash, contributing to a growing environmental problem once it is mixed in with the trash stream. We can either continue to add to growing toxic trash heaps that are coming from incinerators and stored in landfills, or we can instead turn our organic waste into compost. Compost is often referred to as “black gold” by gardeners and farmers -- it is a rich, soil-like substance that contains nutrients that support plant growth. Compost also helps to prevent erosion and provides a host of other environmental benefits. 

Getting Started

  • There are many options for household composting. Backyard composting is a great option for people with backyards. Worm bins work great for some who live in apartments, and you can also add to a friend’s compost pile. (My parents, who live in an apartment, bring their compostables to my compost bin.) We also have communal compost containers at my office that colleagues bring home to add to their compost piles.
  • The first step is to separate your organic waste from the rest of your trash. Containers made specifically for this purpose can be purchased or made by you from everyday materials found in your home, including ice cream pails or buckets and paper milk cartons. 
  • For household composting, I suggest you consider including only plant materials, coffee grounds, egg shells, and similar organic materials, but EXCLUDE animal fats and too many paper products because your home compost pile won’t get big enough (i.e., hot enough) to compost these items and/or they are more likely to create smells and attract pests. Meat and dairy products and more papers can easily be included in commercial composting operations. 
  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Eureka Recycling have great composting tips on their website.
  • The City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Master Gardeners, District Councils, and Eureka are working together to provide more composting education and offering discounted compost bins. This is because the rate of composting in Ramsey County has remained stagnant or at a low level for many years and there is a lot of opportunity to increase the rate of composting in households and the community.
  • Cost saving ideas: Each spring, the Recycling Association of Minnesota works with local businesses and governments to bring area residents inexpensive compost bins and rain barrels through sale events. This year the sale date in Saint Paul is May 31. You can also order online.  
  • Ramsey County offers free organics drop off opportunities at 7 yard waste site locations for its residents and also provides free composting bags beginning April 2014.


Expanding Organics Recycling 

  • Advocate with your employers, businesses and public locations including schools and parks, to provide options for organics recycling. And recognize the many local businesses and organizations that are already doing great work in this area – for example, Saint Paul Public Schools collects compostable materials for hogs; and Xcel Center/RiverCentre, the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Saint Paul Hotel, and many smaller businesses in the community provide trash containers that separate organics for composting.
  • Contact your City Councilmember to encourage the City of Saint Paul to move toward a city-wide organics collection system. The Macalester-Groveland neighborhood in Saint Paul has an organics drop off program where residents can bring their organic waste to a drop-off site after registering with Macalester-Groveland Community Council.
  • The City of Saint Paul will be hosting food waste prevention and composting workshops in the summer. More information is available at

Nicole MartinRogers, a Senior Research Manager at Wilder Research, and her colleague Cael Warren, a Research Associate at Wilder Research, conducted a study for the City of Saint Paul on its recycling and waste management program to better understand resident perceptions, needs, and preferences related to recycling, trash hauling, organics, and bulky waste. The City is working to significantly reduce landfilled waste and the State of Minnesota aims to recycle 60 percent of waste and divert 15 percent of waste for organics recycling by 2030.




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Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 451 Lexington Parkway North, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104 Phone: 651-280-2000
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