Environment

Ramsey and Washington counties launch innovative food scrap recycling program

AI device helps remove the food scrap bags from the rest of the waste

Two people place food scraps in a bin.
A new program for select communities in Ramsey and Washington counties will allow residents to recycle food scraps and have them picked up in their garbage collection. 
Courtesy of Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy

A new program for select communities in Ramsey and Washington counties will allow residents to recycle food scraps and have them picked up in their garbage collection. 

The idea is simple. Use the same garbage trucks, bins and systems already in place, but have a special compostable bag for food scraps. One tough enough that it won’t break while traveling in the back of the truck.

As of April 1, residents of Landfall, Oakdale, St. Paul Park, Woodbury and Grey Cloud Island Township can opt in to the program. That’s in addition to the residents of Cottage Grove, Maplewood, Newport and North St. Paul that have been part of the program since October of 2023. 

Households that participate can separate their food scraps from the garbage in a separate bag — provided for free through the program — and place them in the same trash bin as their garbage.  

“We’ve found that this is an efficient and cost-effective method of collecting food scraps from residents in their home,” said Annalee Garletz, who supervises the Food Scraps Pickup Program for Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy. “If you put your special food scrap bag in your trash bin or dumpster, it’s just the trash truck that comes. It’s not a separate truck that comes to collect the compost.” 

That helps to reduce the number of trucks on the road, and doesn’t require drastic changes to the waste hauling system. 

The key to the program is the special compost bags, said Garletz.  

A sorting machine.
A new program for select communities in Ramsey and Washington counties will allow residents to recycle food scraps and have them picked up in their garbage collection. 
Courtesy of Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy

They’re durable enough to handle being thrown around in the garbage truck, but are still able to decompose along with the food scraps. During processing, an AI device helps remove the food scrap bags from the rest of the waste. The waste then heads to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Organics Recycling Facility. 

A report from the EPA in 2021 estimates food loss and waste in the U.S. produces about the same greenhouse gas emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. That doesn’t include the methane emissions caused from food waste rotting in landfills. 

Data from the EPA notes that the most common material found in landfills and incinerators is food waste. Food waste makes up 24 percent in landfills and 22 percent of combusted solid waste. 

Participants are sent an annual allotment of 60 bags, along with instructions to help improve food scrap collection and proper disposal. 

Officials hope to sign up 10 percent of residents in the program area within the first year and are aiming for 40 percent participation after five years. 

Garletz expects they’ll be able to reach that goal. Since the pilot program started in October, nearly 10 percent of residents within the communities of Cottage Grove, Maplewood, Newport and North St. Paul have signed up. 

While there’s no specific timetable, Garletz said the goal is to expand the program to residents throughout the two counties. 

Residents can check their eligibility and sign up for the program by visiting the Food Scraps Pickup Program website or calling 651-661-9393.  

If you’re not within an eligible community, food scrap drop-off sites are located throughout both Ramsey and Washington counties.  

A map displays communities eligible for food scrap pickup program.
A map displays communities eligible for food scrap pickup program.
Courtesy of Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy
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