Earlier this year, my colleague at Conservation Minnesota wrote about our “missing solid waste tax dollars,” referring to solid waste tax money that has been diverted away from county waste programs. This is unfortunate, as this month’s post will reveal, because there are many areas in which our waste management could be improved. Two of these are areas I’ve had recent experiences with: organics composting and hazardous waste management.
In the East Metro where I work, the options for organics waste management in Washington and Ramsey counties are few and far between, and the options for hazardous waste drop-off are even fewer. In Ramsey County for example, there are seven organics drop-off sites, and five of those are in St. Paul. That means that someone who lives in Vadnais Heights for example will have to make a special trip about 20 minutes North to White Bear Township or Mounds View, or 30 minutes South to St. Paul to drop off their organic waste. In Washington County, the cities of Woodbury, Newport, Denmark Township, and Cottage Grove offer compost sites. All of these are in the Southern corner of the County, so folks in Forest Lake or Stillwater will be making quite a long haul for disposing of their table scraps.
Some may think that this extra trip to a drop-off site isn’t too great of an inconvenience, but I beg to differ. My experience of the difficulty with organic composting here is a personal one. In Anoka County, where I grew up, there are only two sites for dropping off compost waste. My mom often tries out the various environmental passions I have; one of those was organic composting. Unfortunately, my mom works over 55 hours a week and has many evening commitments as well, making the drop-off times very infrequent. To manage the smells coming from her countertop, she began storing organic waste in the garage in the summer. You composters out there know this: leaving waste in a warm area without managing it leads to fruit flies, horrible smells, and worse…maggots! I will forever have a vivid image of my poor mother cleaning maggots off of the garage floor and cursing herself for attempting to compost. Soon after the maggot fiasco, she decided to stop collecting organics for composting.
If you’re willing to try backyard composting and maintain and use your compost waste, that’s great! It’s a wonderful way to live sustainably and reduce the amount of organic waste entering our landfills. However, most people are like my mom – interested and well-intentioned though they may be, they don’t have the time for backyard composting.
When it comes to hazardous waste, I’m afraid the story is similar. When I began my work in Mahtomedi, one of the first conservation issues I learned about was the city’s need for a closer hazardous waste site. In Washington County the only site for dropping off hazardous waste is in Cottage Grove, which is much farther South than folks in Mahtomedi can typically, easily drive to. Similarly, in Ramsey County the only hazardous waste site is in St. Paul. The distance to get to these sites makes it difficult for people to properly dispose of things like paints, cleaning solvents, and other chemicals – all items that should not go into landfills because they may leach into our ground water, lakes, and rivers. Most people are interested in doing the right thing when it comes to waste disposal. But when life is busy and waste disposal is among the lowest of lower priorities, the right thing often gets the boot.
I never used to be on the waste management bandwagon, but after learning just how difficult it is to properly dispose of a number of items, I now have higher expectations for how Minnesota’s decision-makers handle waste money. The counties mentioned above are not wrong-doers; they are doing the best they can with the funding they have available. That’s why we need to continue to push for allocating our solid waste tax dollars to the counties, where they belong.