June 9, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.

Hundreds of tons of food waste being recycled

Hundreds of tons of food waste being recycled
Hundreds of tons of food waste being recycled

Three school districts in Chisago County are completing the third year of a unique recycling effort that separates and collects organic leftovers to be fed to pigs. As long as we're describing things in '3's, prepare to be amazed to learn this effort has resulted in nearly 300 tons of waste food NOT being dumped in the landfill.

The program is working better than many expected it would, according to Lisa Thibodeau.

Thibodeau, County Solid Waste Coordinator, took over after Gary Noren retired. Noren was instrumental in organizing this effort.

He connected area schools with a hog farmer who was agreeable to feeding food products to his herd. He collected the waste food in special barrels stored at participating school sites.

Barthold Farms, located in the St. Francis area, now has grown its food recycling enterprise to where it supplies food for facilities raising several thousand pigs in the greater north metro region. Its system of collecting and "cooking" food scraps for animal consumption has been refined and greatly expanded in the last 20 years, according to the Barthold Farms website.

North Branch Middle School Principal Todd Tetzlaff said the specialized trucks actually cook the waste food while the truck is on the road. Tetzlaff added the whole effort has been a win-win. Even the barrels of food, which custodians had concerns about, have shown to contain odors and be easy to handle.

At North Branch the high school National Honor Society scholars took the lead and teach the younger kids how to separate food from plastic and paper products and they also make cartoon-style posters for the lunchroom at the middle school.

Tetzlaff said the reduction in the school's waste hauling bill (they are charged by the hauler based on garbage weight) has off set the cost of the recycling effort.

Tons and tons

In annual reports the county is required to file with the state this program is cited as responsible for recycling between 250 and 300 tons of food, since the program started in the last half of 2008-2009 school year.

Thibodeau says that's 300 tons just since this started. In her opinion, the real benefit is that students learn about and are being reminded to recycle every day. This impact of this can't be measured.

Kathy Burrill, Chisago Lakes Food Service Director, commented, "The kids get it. The little ones come in and learn quickly why they are doing what they're doing and where the food goes...they learn the system quickly."

Burrill added that Chisago Lakes Food Service in general is utilizing bio-degradeable products wherever possible as an extension of this green philosophy. "We try to be environmentally conscious wherever possible," she noted. Staff does still use chemical sanitizers on certain surfaces to reduce the spread of illness.

Chisago County uses its state recycling incentive to help the schools provide the program. The state funding to promote recycling is generated by a tax on your garbage hauling bill. Chisago County pays for the second half of the year (Jan-June) and districts cover the first half (Sept. to December). The farming corporation gets $4.50 per barrel to take the waste food off the schools' hands. The alternative is paying for it to be hauled as part of the regular garbage.

Thibodeau said the Taylors Falls School does not participate due to the distance transporting the waste food to the farm. And, this year, Sunrise River Elementary School in North Branch didn't do food recycling, which may have to do with the first and second graders being shifted to Sunrise when the old primary school building became the district's area learning center.

Thibodeau said Chisago County benefits because there's a state mandate for a certain percentage of waste to be recycled in each county and this program counts toward meeting Chisago County's mandate, she added.


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