Hennepin County to become first county to require businesses to recycle food waste

Hennepin County is on its way to becoming the first county in Minnesota to require many of its businesses to recycle food waste.

The county’s recycling ordinance has not changed since 1986, but changes will likely get approval from county commissioners by the end of November.

As the owner of a Culver’s in Plymouth, Minn., David Rech has already taken steps to cutting down his restaurant’s waste. He started separating the items placed in his trash bins into recycling and compostable items two and half year ago.

“We are trying to save the world as we call it, one tray at a time,” said Rech.

All year Hennepin County has been working on a proposal to update its recycling ordinance. If passed by the end of the month, larger cities of 10,000 people or more would be required to offer residents curbside organics recycling by the year 2022. Meanwhile, certain business sectors including restaurants, hotels and grocery stores would be required to recycle wasted food by 2020. 

“The problem is the food waste breaks down rapidly in the landfill,” said Paul Kroening, Hennpein County recycling program manager. “It creates environmental problems by creating methane in the landfill.”

Kroening points out for decades recycling has been voluntary and more recently grants and incentives offered haven't changed enough habits. 

“Especially with the organics program, we are really not making much progress,” said Kroening. “So for us, this is the first time for a mandated, regulated approach. We are trying to be very careful with it.”

The Mulch Store in Rosemount is one of the few organics processing sites in the state. Jake Duame, The Mulch Store director of organics development, says it is already nearly at capacity. While he says he’s for the ordinance passing, he also worries about haulers and business owners that may be reluctant to a requirement and not careful about the items sent to be turned into compost. 

“Profit margins with organics composting is pretty thin,” said Duame. “There is a lot costs and ongoing costs that aren’t typically associated with your yard waste compost, where you are going to see most of your profits. That’s the reason there aren’t hundreds of businesses like this popping up overnight.”

Meanwhile, Rech is already seeing a cost savings and the amount of trash headed for landfills from his dumpsters cut in half.

“We are hoping to eliminate even more trash, so that’s a good thing,” said Rech.

Hennepin County officials say this is part of an effort to reach a goal set by the state to have 75 percent of what we throw away be recycled by 2030.