By Heather Miller
MN350 volunteer on the Food Solutions Team

Many of us are familiar with recycling. You see the containers everywhere, and the expectation is that you will participate, as carefully as you can. What is beginning to be more prominent and confusing is the bin for organics, or compost. I remember thinking, “They can’t really want me to put my ‘garbage’ in there!” It seemed kind of rude. But yes, they do. And it’s a great idea.

If you put food scraps or rotten food into the trash, it goes to the landfill where it creates methane gas, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses. Even though it’s not as long lasting as carbon in the atmosphere, it’s far more dangerous in the short term, just when we’re trying to reduce greenhouse gasses to combat climate change. However, if you instead redirect your food scraps to a compost bin, they can be repurposed into a rich compost for the garden that you can pick up for free any time.

If you’ve done a yard waste dropoff, a compost dropoff is just as easy, maybe even easier. Drop off a bag full of food scraps at one of the dumpsters designated for that purpose, and pick up one or two new compostable bags for your next trip. You can get a couple small countertop bags like I use in the summer months, or the larger one that holds several weeks’ worth. (I use those larger bags in the winter.) To escape the “yuck factor,” I have an aluminum pail with a tight lid that I line with a regular plastic trash bag, and then put the big, compostable one inside that. Then if there’s a leak (which hasn’t happened yet), it’s easy to remove the compostable bag, even in winter. Every time I fill up my countertop compost bucket, I just take it to the can and empty it. When it gets full, I load it in the back of my car and take it to the drop-off site. I compost or make an organics deposit every month or so at my nearest organics drop-off site. (Mine is located at the yard waste drop-off site at Midway.) You can find a Ramsey Co. drop-off site near you with this handy map; if you live elsewhere in Minnesota, check with your trash hauler or county.

In St. Paul, we’re not slated to have curbside organics pickup until 2022, but until then, you can get into the habit and make a difference for the planet by dropping yours off. When the new system opens, you’ll be able to deposit your compostable bag of food scraps in the bin with your other recycling. Don’t wait until 2022, though; get started by signing up for a free starter kit. It will also explain what can and can’t be composted (e.g., paper, but not diapers; animal bones, but not feces). It’s very important to keep your compost “clean” because in the future, that clean compost may be used to produce natural gas for heating and electricity. If you live in parts of Hennepin County, you’re lucky to have curbside organics pickup right now. You can also use drop-off sites. Currently, only 48% of residents have requested a bin to recycle organics, but more and more people are catching on to how easy it can be and how good it is for the planet. Sign up for this service here. If you already have bins for trash and recycling, the composting bin can be added for free.

Heather Miller is a MN350 volunteer working on the Food Solutions Team. She has been a climate activist for the last 15 years in Michigan and in Minnesota. Her family, husband, two daughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren are her major motivators in supporting the climate movement. When she isn’t spending time with them, she likes to create pastel or watercolor landscapes of beautiful places.