How to recycle organics

This article was written by Randy Klauk, Hennepin County Master Recycler/Composter

The recycling series continues! This month we discuss organics recycling (composting). As of the beginning of January, Hennepin County has mandated that all cities in the county must offer organics recycling. 

You should know that in Minneapolis, everyone pays for organics recycling whether they participate or not. If you want your own cart, call 3-1-1, but know that they are running behind getting carts out to residents. Something that some neighbors do is share a cart. One family said that since they began participating in organics recycling, they only put out about one bag of garbage a month and one bag of organics each week! That keeps much waste from going to the landfill. Minneapolis has 51 percent participation in the organics recycling program.

The big question that many people ask is what can go in the organics cart? Food scraps include fruits and vegetables, meat and bones, fish, dairy products, eggs and egg shells, pasta, beans and rice, bread, cereal, nuts and shells, coffee grounds and paper filters. Include any spoiled, moldy, frozen food, dairy and vegetables including peelings and pits, seafood including shells, and poultry along with fat and bones. With summer just around the corner, don’t forget your corn cobs and husks. One other thing that should get composted and not recycled is tissue paper from wrapping, but it can’t have any glitter.

Many people worry about the smell organics might produce in the house. If done right, your kitchen won’t smell of decomposing food. One trick is to have a glass dish in your refrigerator that you can leave banana peels, raw meat or poultry until the night you take your organics out to your cart in the alley. The other thing to do is make sure that your organics in the house have some ventilation.

Besides food scraps, food service items include: pizza boxes from delivery, napkins and paper towels, wooden items (chopsticks, popsicle sticks and toothpicks), and certified compostable food service items like paper plates, cups, bowls, to-go containers and utensils. Each of these must have the BPI Logo (Biodegradable Products Institute) to guarantee that they are compostable.

Other compostable household items that you can put in your organics cart are paper egg cartons, tissues, hair (human and pet), nail clippings (no fake or painted nails), cotton balls and swabs (Q-Tips) with paper stems (no plastic), and houseplant trimmings and flowers. Also, corks from wine bottles (the natural ones only, not plastic), chopsticks and coffee stir-sticks (wood or bamboo). Tea bags are a complicated issue as many have plastic imbedded and you have to remove the staples, strings and paper tags. You’re better off just putting them in your garbage.

Don’t put the following items into your organics recycling: yard waste, diapers or sanitary products, pet waste, litter or bedding, cleaning or baby wipes, grease or oil, plastic foam (often called Styrofoam), dryer lint or dryer sheets, frozen food boxes, microwave popcorn bags, gum, fast food wrappers, products labeled “biodegradable” (this is not the same as compostable), paper with a shiny, smooth coating (unless it’s BPI certified), wax paper or parchment paper (unless it’s BPI certified), clothing, crayons or chalk, dental floss, gauze, bandages or cat litter.

And of course don’t put in recyclable items (cartons, glass, metal, paper, plastic) in organic recycling, they should go in your regular recycling bin. In addition, cigarettes and cigars should not be put in your compost. Tobacco can damage our environment. Cigarette butts are not just a nuisance, they are toxic waste. They contain chemicals that contaminate our water and ground soil and can harm our wildlife.

Look for the BPI logo to tell if a product is certified compostable. You can also check online at If you have any questions if an item is compostable, throw it in the garbage. 

Now that you know how to compost, you too can be part of the success of the organics recycling program.