Are you tired of trash? In our house, we sure were; especially around holiday times when the trash bin seemed close to over-filled. Many homes already recycle plastics, metals and paper(though we can all do better it seems). The problem for many households is the perception of extra effort to reduce waste. One area that’s becoming increasingly easier to reduce waste though, is the compostable stuff like food scraps, paper products and more. If you are curious but not yet sure about how to make this part of your household, read on!
Daily FOOD WASTE
As the parent of a toddler, I am keenly aware of the pieces of toast that get left unfinished, or remains of dinner that wouldn’t be wise for the parents to finish (dessert is a different story!). In addition to these, things like coffee grounds and filters, napkins, vegetable cuttings, bones and more routinely go into the trash, but they don’t HAVE to. With some forethought, you would be surprised how much your trash bag can shrink!
The easiest first step is to work to reduce waste. Don’t buy too much food – Americans waste 150,000 TONS of food daily (equal to 1 lb per person) according to the US Dept of Agriculture! That’s real money you may be throwing out, so reducing waste makes financial sense as well. Some other ways to curb food/organics waste at home are:
- Keep a bag of vegetable cuttings in the freezer along with the leftovers from a rotisserie chicken and make chicken stock for soup. (Here’s our favorite recipe for use in a pressure cooker/instant pot)
- Use re-usable towels and wash cloths instead of paper napkins when possible.
- Over-ripe fruits and vegetables can also be frozen to make smoothies for breakfast, and kids love them.
- Keep your refrigerator clean (if you can’t see things in there, they get forgotten).
- Plan meals to make use of ingredients before they go bad.
ORGANICS COLLECTION AND DROP OFF
In recent years, most cities or counties in the metro have added or expanded existing programs for organics / food waste recycling. In addition to household collection in Minneapolis, Fridley, and Hutchinson, major counties such as Anoka, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Dakota offer drop off programs with convenient locations for residents of the county. For information on these, check out this page maintained by the MN Composting Council.
With these programs, getting started is easy, and there are very few restrictions as to what kind of food and materials can go into your personal bin.
After the food waste gets picked up, it gets processed into compost to be used and sold across the state. Take a look at the process:
COMPOSTING AT HOME
If you want to keep the result of composting for yourself, the Recycling Association of Minnesota offers discounted bins and rain barrels for residents of various cities and counties each spring, with schedules and pricing available at their website. While you cannot put all the same items in your personal bin as you would in a city or county program, after about 6-12 months, you can harvest compost that your flowers and vegetables will love!
To get started, you need a container to store scraps close by. If you’re cooking, this can be as simple as a bowl that you empty when you’re done. From there, it helps to put it in a container that pets, kids, and pests cannot easily get into. Local stores like Saint Paul’s Eggplant Urban Farm Supply sell a variety of containers that not only look good, but also keep any smells at bay; though you can certainly get by with an old ice cream bucket if looks aren’t important to you. If you’re part of a program for pickup or drop off, most of these will require that you use a compostable bag for the scraps – this makes it easy to transport out of your house too.
If you choose to have your own bin, you’ll need to maintain it by turning the contents occasionally and keeping it well-watered. Since we live in a cold climate, you will also find your compost bin doesn’t do much when things are frozen. This is the reason we use both options at our house – during the winter we keep composting, but only add small amounts to our personal bin and bring the rest to a drop off site in Eagan at Lebanon Hills.
THE END RESULT
In the case of our household, we’ve been able to reduce our actual trash to less than one “tall-kitchen” trash bag (about 12 gallons) weekly. In addition, our vegetable garden does great with the compost it creates and we spend less on additions to our soil.
Every household is different, but along with being mindful of the waste we create, it’s not hard to reduce our impact. There are still landfills near the Twin Cites, but imagine the possibility of dramatically slowing their growth and the problems that come with landfills.
This spring, give organics recycling or compost a try – I think you’ll be happy with the results!