Less is more: diverting waste at Solhem


Renters in Solhem, the new 60-unit apartment building on Holmes Avenue between Lake and 31st Streets, enjoy an option for waste disposal available in few – if any – apartment buildings in Minneapolis.  Centrally located on each floor of the six-story building are twin chutes leading to bins in the parking garage below:  one chute for garbage and one for organics (compostable material including food waste and items made of paper).  Each floor also has a bin for containers (bottles and cans); residents can recycle their mixed paper and cardboard in the garage.

Thanks to the availability of organics recycling, Solhem owner Curt Gunsbury estimates that Solhem is diverting 70% of its waste to recycling or composting facilities.  Only 30% gets trucked to the Burnsville landfill by Solhem’s hauler, Randy’s Sanitation.  This diversion rate is comparable to the 72% attained in San Francisco, the city that boasts the highest municipal rate in the country.  In contrast, Minneapolis recycles about 33% of its residential waste and sends 67% to the downtown garbage burner.

For resident Nick Gabriel, this comprehensive, built-in recycling system is “one of the main things that made me want to move in here.”  Nick finds the organics option “really useful” and admits that being able to recycle organics has “changed my shopping habits.”  Now he chooses products that are packaged in paper, which is compostable, rather than plastic, most of which can’t be recycled.

This ripple effect – where attention to what can be composted drives a demand for compostable packaging (and less of it) – is one of the benefits of organics recycling.  Another widely-acknowledged benefit is higher rates of traditional recycling (materials like cans, bottles, newspaper, office paper and cardboard) once people start separating out their organics.

Designing Solhem with organics recycling in mind and installing a designated chute as the building was going up showed great foresight on the part of Gunsbury and his architects.  Equally important to the success of the program is clear and ongoing communication with renters.  Apartment leases include an explicit request that renters participate in the recycling program.  Gunsbury provides reminders to recycle and helpful tips in his monthly newsletter to tenants.

According to Nick, “Curt makes it really easy to do.”  And when it comes to changing behavior, easy is the name of the game.

Are you a renter interested in seeing organics recycling in your building? Contact Sarah Sponheim at sfsponheim@yahoo.com for further information.

Sarah Sponheim lives with her family in ECCO and serves on the ECCO Board.