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Northeast Communities Transition to Next Phase in Recycling and Composting Solutions

I admit I was surprised to see a Zoom invite for March 20th to at­tend a Northeast Communities Re­cycling and Composting Collab­orative presentation. The meeting was to talk about entering phase 3 and 4 of their 5-part feasibili­ty study. I was surprised because phase 2, which I had been a part of when I attended the community meeting, had only occurred at the end of February. In a world where it seems nothing moves very quick­ly, the Northeast Communities Re­cycling Composting Collaborative means business.

The presentation included feasi­bility study information and possi­ble pilot projects. It was co-led by Natalie Lavenstein, a Sustainability Project Coordinator for the UMN Extension Northeast Regional Sus­tainability Development Partner­ships (RSDP) and David Abazs, UMN Extensions Northeast RS­DP’s Executive Director.

While business level survey re­sults are still in the works and will be shared in the summer of 2024, the presenters were ready to provide a summary of what they had learned through a survey that was conduct­ed about recycling and composting. They combined this information with feedback provided at commu­nity meetings that occurred in Two Harbors, Tofte, Finland, Silver Bay, and Grand Portage.

RSDP, who collaborates with Grand Portage, Lake County En­vironmental Services, Cook Coun­ty, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency are likely moving quickly due to the looming deadline for the closing of Moccasin Mike Landfill. Located in Superior, Wis­consin, Moccasin Mike Landfill is slated to reach capacity in 2026. As a result, our garbage is likely going to have to be transported much fur­ther south.

Considering that on average fif­ty percent per weight of household waste is organic material, there are opportunities to find ways to increase availability and participa­tion in recycling and composting. There were a lot of barriers and op­portunities discussed at the meet­ings. These were considered for the suggestions the organization was ready to make.

The summary provided made it evident that there were a lot of con­cerned citizens with a ton of good ideas that live and work in our com­munities. Many displayed support for increased access to recycling and composting and provided ideas such as drop off sites and more re­cycling options.

Lake County Recycle Center re­cently made changes to make re­cycling easier by requiring less sorting. Only three categories need to be separated: glass, cardboard, and “everything else” (paper, cans, plastics #1 and #2).

Work has already started with a pilot project in Finland, where a recycling trailer will be parked at the community center. Other pos­sibilities that had been explored were related to finding a buyer for plastics #4, #5, and #6. There may be an opportunity at a company located in Proctor. This would, of course, require transportation and it was unclear in the presentation how much the company would be willing to use.

Suggestions from the community and David’s crew include organ­ic drop off sites, such as grocery stores, restaurants, farmers mar­kets, or recycling centers. If the organic food waste could get to a farm with a compost turner and tractor, it could be made into com­post to be used by the farmers, sold, traded, etc. This model is being piloted in Grand Marais.

At the end of the session, David and Natalie encouraged the partic­ipants to look at steps to move for­ward with the initiatives presented. David advised that there are grants and funds out there that could help make some of the ideas from the community a reality.

To contact David Abazs, email dwabazs@umn.edu.  Natalie Lavenstein can be reached at natlav@umn.edu.  Christine McCarthy, the Environmental Services Director for Planning and Zoning is at christinem.mccarthy@co.lake.mn.us.

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