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Organics recycling for businesses and organizations

Implementing organics recycling programs allows businesses, organizations and schools to expand their recycling programs, ease their burden on the environment, reduce taxes waste disposal, and show customers that they care about the community.

Businesses, organizations and schools have three main options for recycling organic waste:

  • Organics recycling for composting: food waste, unlined paper and certified compostable foodservice ware is recycled into compost, a valuable soil amendment
  • Food to people: edible food is donated to organizations that help people in need
  • Food to animals: food scraps are processed into feed for livestock

Plan your new program with our guide on how to start organics recycling at work (DOCX).

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The impact of COVID-19 on compost site operations

Like many other businesses, the compost sites that serve the metro area have experienced disruptions due to COVID-19. 

For example, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) site suspended organics deliveries for nearly a month in April 2020, and the Specialized Environmental Technologies (SET) site has made temporary operational changes. Prior to the pandemic, manual removal of contaminants, such as plastic and glass, was a critical part of operations. For now, manual sorting has stopped as a precaution for employee health and safety.

Challenges related to COVID-19 have reduced processing capacity at the compost sites, restricted their ability to remove contamination, and made it more difficult for them to meet quality standards and sell their finished product. Because of these circumstances, some organics delivered for composting was landfilled rather than turned into compost in 2020.

The challenges were most severe in the spring but have become progressively better with time. The county is actively working with our cities, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), haulers, and compost sites to address the challenges   caused by COVID-19 and minimize the amount of organics sent to landfills. The MPCA has established a performance standard for the compost sites that requires a minimum of 75% of all incoming material be composted. Under normal circumstances, composters are expected to process at least 85% of all incoming material.

This news is frustrating and disheartening for participants trying to do the right thing by separating their organics to put it to better use as compost. Despite the disruptions, we encourage you to keep participating in organics recycling. Your participation supports the composting system and helps ensure services will continue to be available.

Keep participating in organics recycling and compost the right things

Organics recycling is a crucial part of our zero waste efforts and action on climate change. Your continued participation can help keep as much organic material out of the trash as possible.

You can help ensure the sustainability of organics recycling programs by putting the right materials in the organics bin. Compost sites need to receive organics with low levels of contamination, or materials that cannot be composted, so they can produce clean, nutrient-rich compost that people want to purchase and use. Compost that contains plastic, glass, and other contaminants is very difficult to sell and can only be used for low-end, low-value purposes.

Know what’s accepted for organics recycling

See the organics recycling guide (PDF) for a list of items that are and are not accepted for organics recycling.

If you’re unsure, focus on collecting food. Spoiled food and food scraps are the most common material in the trash and the most nutrient-rich material in the composting process, which makes them the most important material to collect for organics recycling. If you aren’t sure what to do with an item, refer to the organics recycling guide or put it in the trash.

Tips for reducing contamination

Review our factsheet (PDF) to learn more about what is accepted, situations where contamination issues commonly arise, and ways to address contamination issues. The factsheet also has contact information for program managers so you can ask questions and request additional assistance.

Prevent food waste in the first place

While composting is great for disposing of food scraps and other compostable materials, preventing wasted food is even more important and more impactful.

Making simple changes and working to adopt new habits can have a big impact. Creating and following a meal plan, keeping track of and using up the food you buy, understanding date labels, and learning how to properly store and process food can all significantly reduce the amount of food waste you generate.

Visit Save the Food for ideas on meal planning, recipes for leftovers, food storage tips, and more.

Additional background

Developing composting infrastructure to increase capacity 

The disruptions due to COVID-19 have highlighted the strain on organics processing capacity in the Twin Cities metro area. Additional capacity is needed to ensure the viability of existing organics recycling programs and support the development of new programs.

The county is pursuing a variety of strategies to increase transfer and processing capacity for organics, including making modifications at the Brooklyn Park Transfer Stations, supporting the opening of new compost sites, exploring the development of anaerobic digesting or other technologies, and increasing the use of compost in county operations.

Regulatory flexibility granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency due to COVID-19

The state’s Waste Management Act requires organics and recycling to be managed properly. If material is separated as organics or recycling, then it must be composted or recycled.

The same law grants the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) authority to allow the disposal of recyclables when extenuating circumstances arise. The MPCA, recognizing the hardship some regulated entities have experienced as a result of COVID-19, has offered regulatory flexibility to allow entities to pursue alternative management options while maintaining permit and regulatory compliance.

SET requested regulatory flexibility in its operations with the intent of limiting employee contact with incoming organics for health and safety concerns related to COVID-19  .  Because of the lack of organics processing capacity, the county also received regulatory flexibility for the management of organics at the Brooklyn Park Transfer Station. The MPCA worked closely with the Minnesota Department of Revenue, the Governor’s office, and the Legislature to pass legislation and grant regulatory flexibility with specific conditions.

Learn more about the MPCA granting regulatory authority.

Summary of requirements for businesses

Certain businesses (see the list of covered sectors below) that generate one ton of trash per week or contract for eight cubic yards or more of trash per week must have food waste recycling in place

To be compliant with the requirements, businesses must:

  • Have food waste recycling service in place
  • Provide food waste collection containers back-of-house and properly label them
  • Separate food waste from trash in back-of-house operations. Organics recycling is not required in front-of-house operations
  • Provide education and train employees annually

The county also added new requirements for businesses to improve conventional recycling that add service level standards and labeling requirements.

The county will have the authority to enforce these requirements, including the ability to issue warnings or citations for noncompliance. The county provides resources to assist businesses in meeting these requirements.

Covered sectors

Requirement applies to businesses (including commercial businesses, nonprofits and public entities) in the following sectors:

  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Food wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers
  • Hotels
  • Hospitals
  • Sports venues
  • Event centers
  • Caterers
  • Nursing and residential care facilities
  • Office buildings with dining services
  • Farmers markets
  • Food shelves and food banks
  • Colleges and universities with dining services
  • Shopping centers
  • Airports
  • Golf clubs and country clubs
  • Rental kitchens or shared use commercial kitchens

The county board may annually designate by resolution additional business classifications.

Resources

Request forms

Request a variance by submitting a variance request form (DOCX). A site visit may be required by Hennepin County staff to complete the review of your request. 

To apply for approval of a food waste recycling management method not included in Ordinance 13, complete the additional beneficial use application form (DOCX). 

Donate unserved, prepared food to hunger-relief agencies in our community.

How to get started

Second Harvest Heartland offers MealConnect, an innovative online platform that gives caterers, special event centers, restaurants, corporate cafeterias and other commercial food preparers a convenient, free and safe way to donate food.

Donations are either collected directly by the receiving organization or delivered by a trained volunteer. Learn more from Second Harvest and check out the MealConnect platform.

Why donate?

Donating food helps the environment by preventing waste. When food is wasted, the water, energy, fertilizer and cropland that went into producing the food is wasted, too.

The federal tax code allows a deduction for donated food. Contact your tax professional to determine its application to your business.

Food donors are protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act. Organizations that donate food in good faith to a nonprofit are not subject to liability on the condition of the food.

Food that is no longer safe for people to eat can still find a use. By contracting with a farmer or recycler, your food waste will be hauled away and processed into animal feed.

Accepted items at food-to-animals organics recycling programs

  • Food prep waste
  • Plate waste
  • Unpackaged spoiled or outdated food
  • Unpackaged frozen food

Food-to-livestock

Local farms collect your food scraps on-site. Before being fed to livestock, food scraps are cooked and processed to eliminate harmful bacteria.

For collection ease, the farms provide businesses with lined plastic carts on wheels that they wash out and re-line after pick-up. Pick-up is offered up to six times a week.

The following farms provide food-to-livestock programs:

Barthold Recycling

Second Harvest Farms (North)

  • Isanti, MN
  • 763-434-9044

No Rest Ranch

  • Cambridge, MN
  • 763-689-4615

Information about materials

Accepted

  • Unpackaged produce
  • Meat or meat fat trimmings
  • Prep food trimmings, food scraps, cooled grease or cooking oil
  • Unpackaged dairy products (meat, cheese, eggs, eggshells, etc.)
  • Unpackaged spoiled or dated food
  • Fish or fish by-products (shells, peels)
  • Unpackaged frozen foods

Not accepted

  • Non-edible products, such as coffee grounds, plastic, paper, and cardboard

Plan your new program with our guide to starting organics recycling at work (DOCX).

Share information with your employees using this article on food-to-animals (DOCX)

Food-to-animal feed manufacturing

ReConserve Inc.

ReConserve collects and processes bakery goods and food by-products to produce nutritious livestock feed ingredients. Collected food waste is delivered to a manufacturing plant in Rosemount, Minnesota where it is processed into various feed products and then sold and shipped to livestock producers.

ReConserve supplies on-site collection equipment and services their customers with company-owned trucks 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

Contact Rick Cook at 651-438-7618 or by email at rcook@reconserve.com.

In an organics composting program, all food scraps, unlined paper, and certified compostable products are placed in a single container. A hauler picks up the waste and delivers it to a composting facility. After six to nine months, the material has been recycled into compost that is put to good use in landscaping and road construction projects.

Finished compost is an organic-rich soil amendment that is used to improve soils, prevent soil erosion and runoff, and capture carbon dioxide for climate protection.

Materials accepted

Acceptable materials are all food products (fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy), unlined food-soiled paper (napkins, paper towels and egg cartons), other compostable items like coffee grounds and toothpicks, and certified compostable foodware (paper and plastic cups, bowls, utensils). These materials are often collected in a certified compostable bag.

Due to concerns about levels of contamination - or materials that don't belong in the organics recycling - that compost facilities receive, possible changes are being considered to organics recycling programs. Learn more in the reducing contamination section below.

Compostable bags and foodservice ware

As part of your organics recycling program, you may be interested in using disposable foodservice ware that is compostable or collecting organic waste in compostable plastic bags. If you are using these items, you will want to make sure that the materials are certified as compostable.

Find a local vendor of compostable products (PDF).

Certification for compostable plastics

Look for the label

The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is the North American certifying body for compostable plastics. Look for the BPI logo on the products you purchase. You can also check to see whether a product meets the BPI standards for compostability at www.bpiworld.org.

Ask questions

When purchasing products, be sure to ask if what you are buying is certified compostable. Don’t be fooled by products marketed as “degradable”, “biodegradable”, or “made from plants”. Also, some companies that offer BPI certified products may also offer non-compostable products that look similar. Be sure to check to ensure you are buying what you intend to buy!

Commercial organics for composting haulers

The following haulers collect organics for composting in Hennepin County. This list was last updated December 2017.

Aspen Waste Systems

  • Tom Heuer
    612-884-8000

Dick's Sanitation

LePage & Sons

  • 763-757-7100

Randy's Environmental Services

  • Dave Hepfl
    763-972-4123

Republic Services

Sanimax – Organics

  • Andy Barnaal
    651-451-6858

Waste Management

Organics composting facilities

Hennepin County has free assistance, signage and grant funding available for businesses, organizations and schools interested in starting or improving organics recycling programs.

Businesses and organizations

Get grants for recycling containers and supplies, container signage and free assistance. Learn about business recycling grants.

Request assistance

Our committed staff is ready to help you start or improve recycling at your business or organization. Free services include on-site assessments to determine your best options and necessary start-up steps and evaluation of potential costs and savings.

Request assistance by submitting a Business recycling request form.

Organics and recycling signs

Order free recycling, organics recycling and trash signs. A variety of signs are available for spaces such as offices, cafeterias, commercial kitchens, public spaces and more. 

Schools

Get grants, container signage and free assistance for both private and public schools. Learn more about school recycling help.

Apartment, condo and townhouse recycling

Resources for property owners, including container signage and educational information for your residents. Learn about apartment recycling help.

Spread the word! Use the following resources to promote your new organics recycling program and train staff and tenants about how to sort waste.

Training materials

E-Training modules

Videos

Organics recycling for composting training video

Food-to-animals training video

Article templates

Ordinance required documentation

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