The Shakopee facility is one of only two sites in the Twin Cities metro area that compost food waste on a large scale. The other, near Rosemount, is owned by Specialized Environmental Technologies. Both take in tons of waste every year from grocery stores, restaurants, businesses and homes. They keep it out of landfills and turn it into a nutrient-rich product that replenishes the soil. But COVID-19 has created new challenges for organics composting.
First, it put additional stress on the fact that Minnesota needs more places to process food waste. The Shakopee facility is already at its maximum capacity. And when the coronavirus outbreak reached Minnesota, it sparked concerns over the safety of workers handling food waste. So the facility stopped accepting new material for about a month — and the state Pollution Control Agency granted some waste haulers a waiver to divert some organic material to landfills instead.
There’s also been another big change the past five months: Where food waste is coming from. More people are cooking and eating at home. With schools and restaurants closed for months, that has meant a temporary slowdown in the amount of food waste coming in, Albrecht said. “Typically, this facility does an average of 80,000 tons a year of various waste, and that includes 12,000 to 15,000 tons of food waste,” he said. “I would guess our food waste is probably going to be half that this year, maybe.”