The Plate to Garden program was created by the MN Composting Council to complete the loop of growing food, eating food, and turning food scraps back into a natural fertilizer to grow food again. Columbia Heights has been fulfilling that goal through the organics recycling program. Households joining the program are provided with a free starter kit consisting of a five gallon pail and lid, a small kitchen basket, and the proper bags for disposal.
Anoka County residents are able to drop off their organic waste at the Columbia Heights Recycling Center free of cost. The Recycling Center is monitored by volunteers from the Heights-Fridley Kiwanis Club. Mayor Donna Schmitt said “the Kiwanis and the Columbia Heights High School Key Club are the leaders in our city’s organics recycling. Many of their members give up their Saturday mornings to provide this service.” The drive to compost has spread throughout the city with over 290 households registered and more signing up each month.
The City of Columbia Heights manages the refuse services contract for all residential properties. “The City pays for trash disposal by the ton so one of our main goals is to control costs by recycling organics instead of throwing it with the trash,” Jesse Davies from the Public Works Department said. By recycling organics the city is reducing trash tonnage. Last year over 20 tons of organics were delivered to the Recycling Center. This saved the refuse fund over $1,500 in tipping fees. When the organics are dropped off at the Recycling Center they are then brought to the SMSC (Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community) Organics Recycling Facility.
Members of the CHHS (Columbia Heights High School) Key Club as well as “organic recycling” residents took a tour of the facility to see firsthand how organic materials are converted into a soil like material.
The SMSC Organics Recycling Facility goes through a number of steps to create their final product. When organics (food, soiled paper/cardboards, and yard waste) is brought to the facility it is weighed and inspected and then ground and mixed using a “recipe”. This recipe is a combination of brown material (carbon), green material (nitrogen), water and air and must be balanced for the most efficient composting. Composting is a biological process in which microorganisms convert organic materials into a soil like material called compost. The facility has long piles of compost called windrows. Once a pile has remained at 131 degrees for 15 days in a row it is ready to be turned over. This is done regularly for about three months. The material is then screened which filters the compost into three different piles. The first pile is called the overs pile. It contains trash and materials that cannot be composted and will be brought to the landfill. The next pile is called the seconds. It has compostable materials that have not broken down fully and will be placed back into a windrow. The third pile is the finished compost which is ready to be sold.
In conjunction with the Columbia Heights organics program the CHHS Key Club conducts a “Plate to Garden Compost” fundraiser April through June. The SMSC donated compost and the city hauled it to the recycling center for the Key Club. Members of the club pack the compost in 20 pound bags and promote the City’s organic recycling program throughout their neighborhoods. Over 40 additional households signed up for the City’s organics drop-off program during the event this year. This year the Key Club distributed almost 350 bags of compost and raised over $900. These funds will be used for service projects and sponsoring students attending leadership conferences at the State and National levels.
The finished compost is used as an alternative to chemical fertilizers on lawns, gardens and potted plants which benefits lakes and rivers by reducing phosphorus runoff. Compost also adds organic material to depleted soils and boosts water absorption and nutrients. By recycling organics with the city, trash tonnage is reduced. Residents can protect the environment and support Key Club programs by purchasing the finished compost. Dale Schultze, Kiwanis advisor to the Key Club said, “It’s an exciting project. … It’s a good project for them (the Key Club) to become more aware about the importance of doing organics recycling and the benefits of the compost product for planting”.
If you are interested in joining the organics recycling group email email@example.com or call 763-706-3700 to receive a free starter kit.
Article written by Kira Greenfield, CHHS Key Club student