Getting Hands On With Waste – A Recap of the Clay County Waste Sort

WASTE – it’s a pretty hot topic in the world of sustainability and rightfully so. Properly collecting and managing waste, and reducing the amount of trash that ends up in landfills is essential to maintaining the health of people and the planet.

This summer the Fargo-Moorhead community is rolling out single-sort recycling, a system where all recyclable materials (plastics, cardboard, glass, etc.) are placed in a single bin, with no sorting required by homeowners. Convenience increases dramatically for homeowners through a single-sort system, and the cities hope this will increase recycling participation in our community.

To get a sense of how much recyclable materials currently end up in the landfill (pre-single-sort implementation), Clay County Solid Waste organized an afternoon for volunteers to come together and sort trash from 100 Moorhead households.  

Ugly Food of the North joined Clay County for the sort to learn more about waste management in our community. These are a few of our key takeaways.

  1. Food Waste is A BIG ISSUE in our Community – As we sorted through the 2,500 pounds of trash, we found a lot of perfectly good food including a half eaten cheesecake, gently bruised fruit, packages of baby carrots, half-eaten rotisserie chickens, and countless boxes of uneaten leftovers. The total weight of organics (food, garden and lawn clippings) collected was 583.2 pounds from 100 households.  There were 14,304 households in Moorhead in 2010, and if these organic waste numbers are consistent with the rest of Moorhead, we estimate that over 83,000 pounds of organics end up in the trash every week, or over 4.6 million pounds each year. And this is just Moorhead! We really need to get a handle on our organic waste, including reducing the amount of food we throw, composting at home, and exploring options for municipal food scrap composting in our community. [For more information about these programs and ways to support growing them in our community, check out the Municipal Composting and Backyard Composting blueprints from the Cass Clay Food Commission.]
  2. Plastic Bags – YIKES! Of the 2,500 pounds of total trash sorted, 62 pounds was just plastic bags, or about 2.5% of the total trash. Yes, plastic bags are convenient and sometimes necessary, but they are terrible for the environment. Everyone can do his or her part to reduce plastic bag use. Get reusable bags and remember to bring them when you shop! Shop for foods in bulk when you can and bring your own reusable containers. If you’re in the market for a reusable bag, our friends at the Red River Market have some of the cutest in town. [Red River Market Opening Day is Saturday, July 8!] If you’re looking to do more bulk food shopping, Prairie Roots Food Co-op is open and they have a fabulous bulk food section.
  3. There’s a LOT of “Trash” that Shouldn’t Be Trashed – Of all the waste sorted, about 78% was true trash (although that does include unnecessary food waste), while 22% (560 pounds) was materials that should be recycled. This included 152.9 pounds of paper, 111.8 pounds of plastic, 93.8 pounds of glass, 88.9 pounds of cardboard, and 27.5 pounds of cans. These numbers represent the large amount of recyclable materials that currently goes to the landfill when it should be recycled. With the new single-sort system, recycling couldn’t be easier and we hope everyone will take advantage. And while recycling is awesome, remember to practice all 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
  4. Appreciate the People who Handle Your Trash – As we sorted the very LARGE pile of trash from a mere 100 households, we quickly realized what a huge and important task waste management is. The people who do this work are passionate about providing the best service to our community while doing their part to reduce the environmental impacts of waste. We are very grateful for these people and you should be too!

We hope you all enjoy and utilize the new single-sort recycling system, and thanks again to Clay County Solid Waste for the opportunity to learn more about our waste stream. We’re excited to use our big blue bins and see the impact of single-sort in our community!