Thursday, October 14, 2010

Residential waste sort: maggots, masks and media coverage

The city of Minneapolis conducted a waste sort of 100 homes in the Seward neighborhood so it would have baseline data before it launches its dual-stream recycling pilot. Minneapolis residents currently sort their recycling into 9 categories, and residents have been clamoring for years to go to a single sort (all recyclables in one cart) or dual sort (paper, boxboard, cardboard, newspaper in one bin, and bottles and cans in the other bin), but Susan Young, Minneapolis' director of solid waste and recycling, has steadfastly resisted, citing the high prices she gets for her well-sorted materials and the fact that when you go to single- or dual-stream, some of your recycling gets too contaminated (ie glass breaks in your newspaper, or paper gets too soiled by liquid) and has to be thrown away. But recycling rates typically go way up when residents have to sort less, so the pilot is about to be launched.

About two dozen of us with strong stomachs gathered in a city-owned building on a brilliantly sunny day. And what a day it was. We had a ton of media coverage, so there were lots of visitors coming and going. As you may recall, I volunteered in a school waste sort in April, but this was my first residential waste sort.

I count myself lucky because I only had to sort recyclables for most of the day (co-worker Ben says sorting recycling is boring and opted to switch to sorting trash), so I avoided seeing/smelling/touching a lot of the nasty stuff, ie. a huge pile of used condoms, lots of diapers, rotten food and dog poop. But I did photograph quite a few maggots, so you'll want to scroll quickly past that photo if maggots aren't your cup of tea.

Recycling (on the left) and trash carts queued up for sorting (the line kept getting replenished throughout the morning)

Several Minnesota GreenCorps members joined me at the waste sort.

Star Tribune photographer David Joles got lots of good shots. Reporter Amelia Rayno was also there to do a profile on the Minnesota GreenCorps, and two MPCA folks were there to help her get material for her piece. KARE-11 also came and did a segment.

Some of the treasures: flask in great shape, Lady Gaga glasses

Hennepin County organics recycling specialist John Jaimez with one of his many finds.

After the bins' contents were weighed, they were emptied into either organics or trash carts, and the recyclables were emptied directly into a recycling truck.

I'm sparing you the close-up of the maggots.

Who buys a four-pack of toothbrushes and throws away three of them?!

The intrepid Sarah Sponheim dives into a recycling cart.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL) dropped by for a little garbage sorting.

The crew after a job well done. Waste sorts typically take at least two days, but we knocked this one out in just one day.

From the trash and the recycling, we collected about 10 96-gallon carts of organics. These were taken to the transfer station in Brooklyn Park, and then to the composting facility in Empire Township.


  1. I feel everyone. I work in the waste management field and have conducted more waste audit then I care to share. We did 100 houses one years four times a year, twice each time. The little white friends always like to be part of the sorting table. Especially during those summer audits.

  2. "The little white friends" ... I like that!