Monday, February 28, 2011

Community forum on recycling: let your ideas be heard

Hennepin County has been holding a series of recycling community forums, and the third and final one is in Crystal on March 8. Register online, and then come share your thoughts and ideas on how the county can improve recycling! Everyone's opinions will be compiled and used to help shape the county's strategies for increasing recycling.

There was a forum in Bloomington last week. Sorry I didn't tell you about that one ahead of time!

We had 7 tables of four to five people per table. The sizes of the groups were small enough to have a good discussion about the issues: what would motivate your friends and neighbors to recycle more, what materials do you recycle and why, do you prefer a bin or a cart for your recycling and why, what don't you recycle and why, how do you feel about participating in organics recycling.

Angie Timmons (left) is in charge of environmental education and outreach for our department.

My supervisor, Paul Kroening, gave an overview of what the county's trying to accomplish.

As people left, they voted on what strategies they thought were most important. Blue dots indicated their first choice, green their second.

There'll be another opportunity to tell the county what you think should be done to boost recycling, and that's on the afternoon of April 9 at the Neighborhood Sustainability Conference in Minneapolis. Come bend our ears!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Next free EPA webinar: March 1

Sorry for the last-minute notice, folks; this one kind of snuck up on me. As of 9:25 p.m. Monday I was still able to register for this webinar, so it's not too late! 

Webinar: Sustainable Products and the Question of Choice

Webinar Summary: Derry Allen will be speaking first on international initiatives and the development of environmentally sound products. Next Barry Schwartz will talk about the impacts of choice and how we evaluate what is important. Finally, Geoffrey Miller will argue that many of the choices we make are directly influenced by our evolutionary biology. All of these perspectives are meant to encourage thought and discussion about why we consume the goods and services we do, and what makes a sustainable product.

Click here to read more and register.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Out with the old (media), in with the new (recycling program)

Hennepin County just started collecting computer disks, DVDs, CDs, Blu-ray discs, video cassettes, audio cassettes, game cartridges, Secure Digital (SD) memory cards, flash drives, plastic cases and jewel cases, ink jet and laser toner cartridges and vinyl records, aka electronic media, for recycling at its 2 drop-off sites in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park! Before this, there was no local option for such things as cassette tapes, jewel cases and VHS tapes, and if you wanted to recycle them you had to pay to send them to Green Disk.

Here's more info from the news release:

Hennepin County is the first local option to accept such a wide variety of electronic media for recycling. It is unknown how much media is currently disposed of in the trash, but staff anticipates the new recycling service will be very popular among residents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete in the United States and more than 5.5 million boxes of software are discarded each year.

Hennepin County drop-off facilities are located at 1400 W. 96th St. in Bloomington, and 8100 Jefferson Highway in Brooklyn Park. The facilities are open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The county still encourages residents to find a reuse option for media items that are in good condition. Residents can trade, sell or donate video games, music and movies.

Click here for locations and hours. You also can still recycle CDs, DVDs and other electronics, most for free, at Best Buy stores. This link has an extensive list of what they do and don't accept for recycling (click on the link on the right side of the page).

And here's an article from E/The Environmental Magazine entitled "Compact Disc Disposal A Giant Problem."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Restaurants that rock because they rot!

The city of Hopkins wants to expand organics recycling in restaurants and businesses, so four of us (2 city of Hopkins folks and 2 Hennepin Co. waste-reduction and recycling folks) toured two restaurants in Minneapolis that collect organics for composting to check out their set-ups. Pete of Galactic Pizza in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood and Dave of Gluek's downtown were kind enough to show us around and answer questions. Both said organics recycling is definitely worth the (little extra) effort and (little extra) cost.

These bins are called Slim Jims. Pete says it takes 3 days to fill the trash bin, and a couple of years ago the restaurant started collecting plastic bags and wrap through the It's In The Bag program, reducing their waste even further. Because taking care of the planet is one of their core principles, Galactic isn't new to organics recycling, having started about 7 years ago. Galactic first utilized food-to-hogs but later switched to organics recycling with Randy's Environmental Services in 2006 or 2007 because a lot more material (food-soiled paper and meat and bones) is accepted for composting.

Their trash bin
Organics bin, which you can almost always tell because the compostable bags are a pale green color.

All their to-go ware is compostable with the exception of the soup lid on the right that Pete is holding. Pete says the first thing they do with new employees is train them how to recycle and compost. Galactic also uses electric cars for delivering their pizzas. Another unique feature is their use of their pizza boxes as coupons. Bring two boxes in and get $2 off your next pizza. Over a Friday/Saturday/Sunday, customers return about 100-200 boxes, which then get composted.

And at the back of the house ... look at how LITTLE this trash dumpster is! And it only gets picked up once every two weeks!
Compare the trash dumpster with the organics and cardboard/paper dumpsters. I know it's hard to see the perspective, but trust me, these dumpsters are double or triple the size of the trash dumpster. Organics and recycling dumpsters get serviced weekly.

Gluek's in downtown Minneapolis is in its 78th year of business. They've been composting for 2 1/2 to 3 years as part of Eureka Recycling's Make Dirt Not Waste program. They've got composting and recycling bins on either end of the bar by the bussing stations.

Food left on plates gets dumped into this organics bin before dishes are washed.

In the kitchen the organics (green liner) bin is paired with the trash (black liner) bin, and the placement of the organics bin is convenient for food prep. Gluek's goes through 8 to 10 compostable bags a day.

Gluek's also uses compostable to-go ware. Their recyclables (lots of glass bottles, naturally) and organics get picked up once a week (bi-weekly in the summer) while their trash is serviced twice a week because they share with a neighbor.

Twenty-six other restaurants and stores have partnered with Eureka Recycling to "make dirt not waste" by collecting organics at their establishments. I wrote about this last year.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

From kitchen scraps to garden gold

You collect your food waste and soiled paper, put them into your organics cart, and your hauler comes and takes it away. But what happens after that? How does your rotten food become nutrient-rich compost? (I've unfortunately still never been to the composting site, so all these photos are borrowed. Ohhh, look at the lovely blades of green grass!)

At the Hennepin County school organics meeting last month, Anne Ludvik of Specialized Environmental Technologies (SET), operator of the only composting facility in the Twin Cities metro area (there's also one in Hutchinson and one in Duluth), gave a presentation on the process of commercial composting. SET is a member of the U.S. Composting Council.

After organics are collected at your house, they're taken to the Hennepin County Transfer Station in Brooklyn Park for inspection. Here's the organics bunker:

Then the load goes off to the SET composting site in Rosemount. Organics are mixed within 24 hours of arriving at the site.

City of Minneapolis organics cart (currently only available in three areas of the city)

Organics from schools, businesses and homes arrive at the composting site.

Yard waste is stored, so during the winter when there's no yard waste collected, this stored material can be mixed with food waste to get the proper carbon:nitrogen ratio.

The red piece of equipment is the RotoMix VXT 745, which tears open compostable bags and mixes the organics but doesn't crush them. This is very important because you need to maintain the organics' bulk; if you only have small particles they fall to the bottom, and the piles go anaerobic (which means stinky).

The RotoMix's twin augers mix the organics.

The organics are formed into 1,000-cubic-yard windrows over aeration pipes with holes every 6 inches attached to blowers. When the organics are piled on top of the pipes, the blowers cycle on and off, blowing air through the pipes into the windrows, making the perfect conditions for bacteria to do their work. It takes about a week to get enough material to build a pile, which then sits for four to eight weeks, cooking. Temperatures are taken daily with 3-foot-long thermometers. The compost must reach 131 degrees for 7 consecutive days to kill the pathogens. The compost gets screened and cured three times.

Organics before they're screened

Finished compost goes through the trommel screener, which uses a half-inch screener.

Contaminants pile up at the back of the trommel screener

Curing compost

And 4 to 6 months later, it's finished! Garden gold!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Update from the front lines

Trusty correspondent Yvonne files this report from the Trashbasher Bay Area Bureau on new trash and organics collection service, which has been going on for one month, by Recology in San Mateo County (Calif.):

"So remember how I said our trash collection price didn't go up? I heard from other people who opted for the bigger cans that theirs did, a lot. Maybe that'll help them sort their trash better!!"

I asked if she told them that they could save money by opting for the small cart if they produced less trash.

"Yes, I told them, but they didn't really seem to care that much. Maybe they'll think about it more later though. I hope so!"

And what is her weekly trash for a family of 2 adults, 4 kids and 1 dog? Half a grocery bag. Nicely done!!

All the City Councils appear to be backing the collection rate increases.

From Half Moon Bay Patch:
Half Moon Bay's rate increase appears to be the most modest in comparison to other cities in San Mateo County that have raised their rates or are proposing to raise their rates in the near future.

Last night, the Foster City City Council unanimously approved a 29.5% rate hike. Burlingame's City Council considered a garbage rate increase of 17% last night. And on Jan. 10, Redwood City raised their garbage rates by 18%. Atherton, San Mateo and Menlo Park are among other cities proposing rate increases as well.

Other news stories:
From the Daily Journal
Garbage complaints in San Mateo County down
January 20, 2011, 02:51 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Peninsula garbage customers are logging fewer complaints about missed pickups and other snafus with new provider Recology but some are also voicing frustration with a recent spate of double-digit service rate hikes, according to the overseeing agency.
The call volume is substantially down now over the first few weeks when customers lit up the phones at the South Bayside Waste Management Authority, said spokeswoman Monica Devincenzi.

SBWMA is the 12-agency joint powers authority that contracts with Recology on behalf of its members including Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Atherton, Hillsborough, San Mateo County and the West Bay Sanitary District.

Exact call numbers were not immediately available but Devincenzi said the majority are more inquiries about types of programs rather than specific issues.

“It is all greatly improved since the rollout,” she said.

The phone lines at San Mateo County’s Health System, which were also busy in the first few weeks of the year because of disgruntled customers, are also quiet.

The county is no longer receiving any calls or complaints about collections services, said Health System spokeswoman Robyn Thaw.

A Recology representative did not respond to an inquiry about its phone traffic.

Devincenzi said some calls after Recology began its contract Jan. 1 were not unexpected even though both it and the SBWMA tried to head off problems with community workshops and public outreach.

Recology took over from Allied Waste, ending its 10-year contract and bringing new collection carts and schedules.
At the same time, cities and member agencies belonging to SBWMA began notifying customers of, and in some cases already voting on, garbage rate increases including some as high as 38.9 percent.

Although some of customers have questioned why increases are being asked at the same time service has been in question, the timing is coincidental.

Customers may also not fully realize the rate increase components include items not specifically tied to the Recology contract such as paying out Allied’s final bill and tip fees at the Ox Mountain landfill.

From the San Francisco Sentinel:

Recology San Mateo County update on collection services rollout progress: Reduced volumes, increased driver familiarity and proper cart set-out aiding in improved service

13 January 2011
SAN CARLOS, CA — Recology San Mateo County is reporting today that drivers are fully completing their routes and coming in closer to expected completion times as they become more familiar with the new routes, equipment, and as volumes decrease after the holiday season. Assisting this effort is the improvement in proper cart set outs by residents in the RethinkWaste service area.

“While our call volumes remain high, today’s levels are down approximately 20% from yesterday and the call queue is currently open with Customer Service Representatives awaiting calls,” said Mario Puccinelli, General Manager, Recology. “Recology is continuing to allocate extra resources to the call center and in the field, running additional trucks to respond to any service inquiries that arise.”

The company also reports that the characteristics of the calls have changed dramatically and are more focused on program information rather than service related concerns or issues.

“Our customer service representatives have updated the records of more than 3,000 customers to date to ensure that proper service is provided,” said Puccinelli. “This work will greatly reduce future service issues and will allow us to provide quality service to our customers.”

RethinkWaste has reported positive recycling percentages since the roll out of the CartSMART program.

“Recycling percentages remain high, an increase of 31% from the same period last year,” said Kevin McCarthy, Executive Director, RethinkWaste. “This exceeds the expected increases due to the introduction of the new CartSMART program.”

While the company is still improving its performance, it is asking the cooperation from its customers in two very important ways. First, Recology is asking customers to inform them of any issues or special instructions, if they have not already done so, in order for them to update their customer database and ensure that Recology is providing the proper level of service. Secondly, it is asking customers to set the carts out properly, wheels against the curb with 2-foot spacing between them and away from obstructions like vehicles and/or fixed structures.

“We are continuing to address service issues as they occur. However, the second week of service is proving to be better than the first,” said Puccinelli. “We will not be satisfied until our customers are. We are committed to putting the full resources of the Company to bear on solving any outstanding issues.”

About Recology San Mateo County

Recology San Mateo County was chosen in 2008 by RethinkWaste to provide Recycle, Compost and Garbage collection services for its 12 Member Agencies. Recology’s roots in recycling go back to 1920 in San Francisco, when garbage men, known then as “scavengers,” actively sought out alternative uses for refuse. Recology is now the largest employee owned company in the solid waste industry, parent to three dozen subsidiaries that provide solid waste services to more than 100 communities, and serves more than 600,000 residential and 80,000 commercial customers. Recology recycling facilities serve as national models, and the company is known as a pioneer in waste reduction, often exploring new technologies to facilitate landfill diversion. For more information, please visit

About RethinkWaste

Formed in 1982, RethinkWaste is a joint powers authority comprised of 12 Member Agencies (Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, the County of San Mateo and the West Bay Sanitary District) in San Mateo County and is a leader in implementing innovative waste reduction and recycling programs. RethinkWaste also owns and manages the Shoreway facility in San Carlos consisting of a permitted solid waste transfer station and a recycling processing facility. The Agency’s legal name is the South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA.) For more information on RethinkWaste, please visit our website at

Foster City joins trash-rate-hike club

By Elizabeth Pfeffer For the San Mateo County Times
San Jose Mercury News (California)
January 22, 2011
Foster City is among the latest mid-Peninsula cities to raise garbage rates since a new company took over collection for 92,000 San Mateo County households.

The City Council last week unanimously approved a 29.5 percent increase that will drive up the collection fee for a 32-gallon bin from $13.73 to $17.72 per month. The new rate goes into effect Feb. 1.

Of the 12 member agencies in the South Bayside Waste Management Authority -- the joint agency that made the switch to new trash collector Recology -- Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City and San Mateo County have now approved rate hikes similar to Foster City's, according to the authority.

Foster City residents received state-mandated warnings about the potential change before the council's vote Tuesday, and the response was minimal, officials said. Garbage has become a sensitive issue, however, since Recology got off to a shaky start at the beginning of the year, missing pickups at many homes and eliciting thousands of customer complaints.

Foster City Councilwoman Pam Frisella said that, once the kinks with Recology are worked out, it will be better than previous garbage company Allied Waste.

"People just have to be patient," she said. "Recology is fantastic."

With the increase, Foster City still has some of the lowest garbage bills in the county. Redwood City, for example, raised its rate for a 32-gallon bin -- the most commonly used size -- to nearly $25.

The new system is meant to improve waste management with more frequent pickups and easier disposal of recyclables and organic materials.

Still, Recology and the cities it serves have been inundated with complaints.

Recology spokesman Adam Alberti said the number of calls has gone down since the start of the year from an average of 5,000 per day to 2,000.

"That's a pretty high call volume, but it's a lot less, and the characteristics of the calls are different," he said. "Most calls we receive now really are related to how the program works."

Alberti attributed the challenging start to three things: The week service began was the busiest waste week of the year; routes changed; and drivers had to worker harder to manually lift bins that hadn't been set out on the curb correctly.