I always love learning about local, creative solutions to conservation problems. I have been working in the city of Stillwater recently, and many small business owners downtown are looking to improve how they handle their trash. Thanks to Washington County funding and the Stillwater Independent Business Alliance, this community has come up with a very local approach to improving waste management.
The program is called S.E.E.D., or Stillwater Eco-Empowerment Directive, and it is a mainstreet Stillwater approach to organizing “BizRecycling” financial resources. S.E.E.D. facilitates access to $10,000 BizRecycling grants by helping businesses get started with an initial waste management assessment and then connecting them to education and assistance resources to implement change. The initial waste assessment is through Waste Wise, a nonprofit affiliate of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce that provides environmental sustainability consulting to Minnesota businesses and organizations.
The grant money is awarded for each individual business unit, so business owners with multiple locations can access up to that $10,000 per location (note: chain businesses may not receive this funding – but independent business owners with multiple locations may). This grant money can be used for a variety of purposes, from purchasing recycling bins or building recycling enclosures, to covering staff training expenses.
Businesses in Stillwater have already begun to benefit from the S.E.E.D. program. Wedge and Wheel, an artisan cheese shop in downtown Stillwater, utilized the free Waste Wise assessment to create a plan for the wooden crates that carry their cheese. Wedge and Wheel ultimately decided to reuse the crates, or put them back into circulation in a similar way to glass milk bottles were reused when milk was delivered.
Additionally, Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop (Leo’s) worked through S.E.E.D. and Waste Wise to change the way they handle waste so that they now divert about 80,000 pounds of compostable materials from the landfill each year. Plus, there are monetary savings that Leo’s has enjoyed – about $200 a month during summer months. That’s because in Washington County, haulers charge a 52% tax on garbage. Reducing the overall garbage amount reduces the associated fees. However, relationships with waste haulers can be complicated and some haulers have applied surcharges to organic waste collection, which negates the tax benefit. Each waste hauler will have a unique contract with a city or with property owners in the city.
While downtown Stillwater has already benefitted from this local approach to waste management, there is still a long way to go. BizRecycling funding remains underutilized, and business owners sometimes face barriers with their property rental managers they operate their business out of. As a patron of many downtown Stillwater businesses myself, I plan to encourage better handling of recycling and organics where I can. I hope community members will do the same.
Do you have a question about how your community could handle waste better? Email me at Julie@conservationminnesota.org!