Single-sort rollout begins this month

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November 19, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

Big, blue plastic carts will start to show up in alleyways across the city this month, a signal that the switch to single-sort recycling is finally underway.

The first of the new, 95-gallon recycling carts were scheduled to arrive by Nov. 12. By the end of the month, roughly 34,000 Minneapolis households will no longer have to sort their recyclables into separate bags of glass, plastic, paper and so on.

The changeover to single-sort recycling — or “one-sort,” as the city prefers — is happening route-by-route. A map posted online at minneapolismn.gov/onesort explains the schedule.

If the schedule holds, roughly one-third of Minneapolis households will have made the change by the end of November. The conversion to single-sort will pause over the winter and resume in April, so the rest of us will have to make due with the old 24-gallon bins until the spring.

The City Council in May voted to end the multi-sort recycling system in place for decades based on the premise that less sorting would boost recycling rates. Just over 18 percent of household waste produced in the city is recycled currently — a rate that’s barely budged since 2005 — and the goal set by Hennepin County is to nearly double that rate to 35 percent.

Dave Herberholz, director of Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling, said he thinks the city could hit that goal as soon next year. While single-sort is expected to boost recycling rates even among ardent recyclers, the biggest gains are to be made among those who felt multi-sort was just too much trouble.

“The spike in volume is hopefully going to come from those who haven’t participated or only partially participated in the past,” Herberholz said.

Herberholz’s prediction is only slightly more optimistic than one found in a report delivered to the City Council. That report examined case studies in similar cities — Ann Arbor, Mich., and Portland, Ore. — and predicted single-sort would raise Minneapolis’ recycling rate to 32 percent.

The city also tested single-sort recycling in two neighborhoods, East Calhoun and Willard-Hay, and compared the results to a dual-sort system piloted in the Seward neighborhood. The results of the study indicated single-sort would cost less and do more to boost recycling rates.

(By the way, the East Calhoun residents already enrolled in single-sort are scheduled to get the new blue bins sometime over the winter.)

Herberholz said there was a potential upside to single-sort for the collection crews, too. Collecting multiple types of recyclables is labor intensive and has contributed to injuries, he said.

“It’s not just the residents who are excited,” he said. “It’s a very demanding part of what we do.”

The next step may be adding organics collection to the city’s curbside program. Herberholz’s staff was directed to study the collection of compost and deliver a report to a City Council committee in April.

What does the city plan to do with the old recycling bins? They’re giving them away, basically.

Once the new carts are delivered, the bins can be used for storage or whatever, or they can be left out on the curb and the recycling crews will collect them.

Parks planning for urban agriculture

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board plans a series of public meetings in November and December to examine how parks might play a role in the city’s burgeoning urban agriculture scene.

That doesn’t necessarily mean opening up parkland to gardening, although the Park Board does allow community gardens on some lands it has received through tax forfeiture, including the Soo Line Garden along the Midtown Greenway in Whittier. But it could mean developing closer ties to some of the city’s urban farmers.

“There’s so much we feel we could be doing to partner with others,” said Ginger Cannon, a parks planner. “… We’re talking about everything from community events to the vendors we support to the food that we use to feed children [through meal programs].”

The Park Board is following the city’s lead on urban agriculture. Minneapolis’ urban farmers got a major boost this spring when the City Council approved new zoning rules that paved the way for commercial growers to operate legally within city limits.

The upcoming meetings are just the first step in defining the Park Board’s role, and the aim is to release a draft plan by next spring, Cannon said.

To read more about the Park Board Urban Agriculture Plan or to sign up for email updates on the project, go to minneapolisparks.org and search under “News & Events.”

Upcoming meetings are planned for Dec. 3, 6–7:30 p.m. at Farview Rec Center, and Dec. 4, 6–7:30 p.m. at the Nokomis Rec Center.