Eureka! Ecology and Entrepreneurship at the State Fair

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Don’t throw away those corncobs when you visit the Minnesota State Fair this year.

In a move that blends environmental consciousness with old-fashioned entrepreneurship, the fair will make this year’s Great Minnesota Get-Together a greener educational experience.

Food wastes, including corncobs, will be gathered daily and trucked to Stillwater for composting. Next year the transformed waste will be returned to the fairgrounds as rich compost to enrich soils for flower gardens and lawns.

It’s a neat cycle of recycling for easy-to-handle food wastes, said Brienna Schuette, spokeswoman for the State Fair.

“We recycled 4,900 tons of waste and 1,200 tons had to be thrown away last year,” she said. The latter was burned – better than landfill disposal but not a satisfactory result, she added.

So this year, the fair has teamed with partners to make more of the waste recyclable, turning trash into useful, eco-friendly commodities. The goal is to keep nearly all fairgoers’ discards from entering landfills, where it may take months to millennia to decompose.

Eureka Recycling, a St. Paul-based nonprofit waste management and recycling firm, will have special containers at the Agriculture-Horticulture Building, the Food Building and the Corn Roast stand for people to dispose of food wastes.

From there it’s a short trip to to Buberl Recycling and Composting at Stillwater, where food scrapings and corncobs will begin the biological journey back to rich soil-hood. Minnesota Waste Wise, a nonprofit affiliate of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, is staffing the Corn Roast concession area with volunteers to help sweet corn consumers properly dispose of the cobs.

This is no small matter. Fairgoers consumed 10,000 ears of corn each day last year, discarding about 120,000 corncobs.

Buberl is a family-owned enterprise that also has operations at Wilson, Wis. Minnesota Waste Wise is an entrepreneurial service that helps businesses audit their waste management and other environmental practices.

Good environmental stewardship can be good business, said Waste Wise’s Mark Blaiser. The nonprofit has gotten reports from its participating businesses of saving at least $2.5 million a year in waste management costs, he said.

Over its more than 150-year history dating back to territorial days, the State Fair has showcased all kinds of new inventions, systems and technologies promoted by its exhibitors.

This time around, the fair is an exhibitor of eco-friendly innovation in its own right, showing by example how basic wastes can be put to good use.

“There has always been a strong educational aspect to the fair,” said Blaiser. “We have the opportunity to help educate about 2 million fairgoers about composting and recycling.”

Blaiser could still use a few more volunteers at the Corn Roast stand. He can be reached at mblaiser@mnchamber.com or by calling 651-292-4663.

To learn more about the Minnesota State Fair, check their website. And to learn more about the environment-friendly activities of the fair’s food waste partners, check www.eurekarecycling.org and www.buberlrecycling.com.