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St. Louis County food recycling rules reduce landfill waste

New rules requiring local restaurants, schools, caterers and grocery stores to recycle food waste are keeping tons of old food out of landfills and instead turning it into compost used by gardeners and landscapers.

The rules, requiring the separation of food waste from other trash, started July 1 for the largest schools, restaurants and grocery stores in the St. Louis County portion of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District. So far, all 12 affected grocery stores and three colleges are meeting the new requirements, WLSSD spokeswoman Karen Anderson said. So are seven of eight nursing homes, one food manufacturer and at least 35 of 42 small and medium-sized restaurants.

"Compliance has been good,'' she said. "Some of the early issues were with [garbage] haulers not being ready in time to handle the material, but that's getting better.''

The WLSSD doesn't charge haulers to dump food waste at the district's Duluth compost facility. But haulers charge their customers for the use of food-waste recycling bins and for extra pickups.

Each week, about 30 tons of food waste are being diverted from the Superior landfill and instead turned into organic compost. Ten to 15 tons of waste grain, fish and other organic material adds to the total.

It's part of the overall philosophy of the WLSSD and Minnesota regulators to reduce waste and re-use as much material as possible.

Tom Hanson, co-owner of the Duluth Grill, said recycling food waste costs him about $80 extra each month on his garbage bill. But the practice has saved him money in other areas.

"When you start sorting food, you start doing other things better, too," he said. "There's less waste all around. And we've saved a lot of silverware that was going to the landfill.''

The food recycling effort, coupled with Hanson's decision to use compostable paper cups and take-out containers, has reduced the restaurant's non-recyclable garbage output to four yards a week from 12.

"If one little restaurant can have that much waste, it makes you think about the waste in our society and about landfills, even if you don't live by one,'' Hanson said.

The WLSSD has experimented with reducing food waste in homes, including test efforts to offer curbside food-waste recycling. So far, the agency has no immediate plans to demand that all consumers recycle food waste. The WLSSD provides six drop sites for household and small business food waste for those who don't want to compost on their own. The sites are listed on

The WLSSD board Monday night delayed putting in place food recycling requirements for small restaurants and caters until March 1--about the time that St. Louis County expects to hand over all restaurant licensing to the state.

The delay, from Jan. 1, is designed to avoid imposing requirements on small shops that may not need licensing under new state rules, Anderson said.

All Carlton County restaurants, grocery stores, institutions and licensed caterers within the WLSSD also must begin recycling food waste March 1.