By JANE MCCLURE
By this spring, St. Paul residents will be able to make changes in the way they recycle. All recyclables put at curbside can go in one container, not two, meaning paper, cans, glass and plastics can be co-mingled. More plastics can also be put out every week.
Those who don’t compost in their backyards or have a container of worms eating their organic trash will be able to take organic waste to the Ramsey County compost site on Pierce Butler Route. The changes are just two being rolled out in the next few years to get more people to recycle at their homes and recycle in public places.
The city not only needs to meet a state mandate to recycle 60 percent of its waste by 2030 (currently residents divert only about 20 percent), but to also divert 15 percent of its organic waste for recycling.
St. Paul’s curbside recycling tonnage peaked in 2008 at 18,240 tons. That dropped to 16,833.865 tons in 2009 and has dropped steadily to 15,918.49 for 2012. Recycling per household has also dropped over that same time, from a high of 483.17 pounds per household in 2008 to 421.68 pounds in 2012.
Yet that doesn’t mean St. Paul residents are generating less waste. In the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Ramsey County has the highest annual per-capita waste generation rate, at just under 1.2 tons per person. All six other metro area counties are lower, with Washington County the lowest at about .77 tons per person. When recycling rate changes are compared for the region, Ramsey and Carver are the only two counties where recycling rates have remain flat or dropped. (The figures are from 2011.)
City Council members and many community members want to see that change. One concern is that St. Paul has gone from being a leader in recycling to falling behind many other communities. Amy Brendmoen, Russ Stark and Chris Tolbert are the council members working on recycling and waste reduction issues. While the three and their colleagues agree that residents want more convenience with recycling, they suspect there may be more reasons for the decline in recycling and increase in trash going to landfills. They want to see everything from stepped-up community outreach to more opportunities to recycling in public places, along commercial streets and at community events and festivals.
“We’ve worked very diligently respond to residents’ concerns and make recycling easier,” Tolbert said.
Single-sort recycling, which starts in the spring, is seen as one way to boost recycling rates. Minneapolis went to a single-sort system last year and in the first full month of citywide, single-sort recycling, the city saw a 57.75 percent increase in volume of recyclables. Minneapolis’s overall recycling rate increased from 16.4 to 24.4 percent, and brought in almost 900 more tons of materials when compared to the same period one year ago. Anne Hunt, environmental coordinator for Mayor Chris Coleman, said Minneapolis city staff is seeing recycling by households that never recycled before.
St. Paul residents will get information on single-sort recycling in March. Because the changeover requires equipment changes for recycling contractor Eureka Recycling, single-sort will start at different times in different neighborhoods.
Residents will use their same blue bins in 2014 for single-sort recycling and to recycle more plastics, then switch to wheeled, lidded carts for recycling in 2015. Recycling bins move to alleys in 2015. By 2016, the city hopes to have alley or curbside organics recycling.
Spring 2014 is also when Ramsey County compost sites will be open for organics recycling drop-off. The St. Paul Planning Commission recommended approval of needed ordinance changes Dec. 20. Ramsey County applied for needed conditional use permits for sites in December. Those requests could go to the full Planning Commission for approval in late January.
Another change recommended is more public recycling, as is done on Grand Ave. People who ride buses or eventually take light rail along University Ave. will see recycling containers at bus hubs and along Central Corridor. The city also wants to add more recycling containers at recreation centers, parks and athletic fields.
But while they applaud the current plan, council members want to see more changes. Stark and Brendmoen said more needs to be done to encourage apartment buildings to recycle. Stark said there need to be more incentives offered to get more apartment owners to sign up, rather than kicking buildings out of the program when recycling bins aren’t used properly. Hunt agreed that changes are needed but noted it may take going building to building to promote recycling.