Could that steak bone or banana peel go into a compost pile instead of the garbage?
That’s some of the questions the Stevens County Board of Commissioners would like answered with a job and plan it is pursuing with help from the University of Minnesota Morris.
Stevens County will apply for a Minnesota GreenCorps member to be located in the county. The GreenCorps member will work on waste reduction strategies as part of the county’s solid waste management plan. Minnesota GreenCorps is a federal Americorps program coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Forty members spend 40 hours a week for 11 months in positions related to areas of green living outreach, air quality, green infrastructure or waste prevention and recycling.
“We’d like to study (opportunities) for additional waste diversion…,” county coordinator Becky Young said at the March 7 county board meeting.
GreenCorps pays for the position. The county would need to supply an office, supervision and access to a vehicle, Young said.
The county is working with the Morris Model, a partnership of several entities including the UMM and city of Morris, that focuses on green energy, climate durable infrastructure, green transportation and other aspects of energy and infrastructure. Young said the city is supportive of the GreenCorps application as well as Engebretson Sanitary Disposal.
Young said a GreenCorps staffer would be able to more thoroughly investigate ideas such as organic waste composting.
“This person would knock on the door of the high school, West Wind Villa and other establishments that might want to get involved (in organic waste composting),” county environmental services director Bill Kleindl said.
The region has options to study and partners with which to work, Kleindl and Young said.
Pope and Douglas counties have an organic waste diversion program and so does Swift County, Kleindl said.
UMM also has an organic compost program.
“We reduce 40 tons of organic (waste per year) from our waste stream,” said Troy Goodnough, of the office of sustainability at UMM.
Goodnough has been working with Young on the GreenCorps application. Goodnough has also worked with Minnesota GreenCorp staff positions at UMM.
“I think this is a good deal,” commissioner Donny Wohlers said.
Wohlers asked Goodnough if GreenCorps staffers understand it’s a one-year position.
They understand there is no guarantee of future employment when the GreenCorps term is completed, Goodnough said.
Commissioner Jeanne Ennen asked if the GreenCorps staffer is typically a UMM student.
“Not necessarily,” Goodnough said. He’d let UMM graduates know of the position but the university has had graduates from other college and universities as a GreenCorps staffer.
Commissioners liked the possibility of the GreenCorps position but also had specific questions about UMM’s organic compost program.
Goodnough said the university did need to spend several thousand dollars on a concrete pad and about $10,000 on one recent purchase of equipment, But the overall cost is less expensive than other models in the state.
“Other people spent money on fancy sites. This is a wind row. We build a pile tall and high and nature runs its course,” Goodnough said.
Organic parasites and bacteria eat the compost material to help convert it to dirt. The pile is also monitored regularly, Goodnough said.
“Is there a way to measure a return on the investment?” Ennen said. County officials said any project pursued would need to cost beneficial.
Goodnough said he did not have that specific information on March 7 but said UMM is diverting 40 tons of waste from garbage each year. Multiply 40 tons by what the garbage per ton cost is and that’s a benefit, he said.
“Has this changed the products you buy?” Wohlers asked
Goodnough said the university buys compostable cups, knives and similar materials.
“Chicken bones, meat, cups…at the end of the day it all looks like dirt,” Goodnough said.
The compost pile is turned or stirred regularly. The only time it may smell is for a brief time in the spring, Goodnough said.