Recycling Right

Artist: Greta Kaul

Artist: Greta Kaul

Read up on this MinnPost article describing best practices for recycling in Minnesota! The recycling system relies on us, consumers, to make our best effort to properly recycle.

Some Key Takeaways:

  • WISHCYCLING - tossing something into the recycling bin that actually isn’t recyclable (but we wish it was) - is one of the most important practices to AVOID. By eliminating non-recyclable materials from recycling facilities, it will make the jobs of those sorting our waste much easier, as well as prevent potential damage to machinery.

  • Food, beverage, laundry and bathroom containers are recyclable in general, except those labeled #6, or that are black in color. Black plastics are too hard for machines to sort, so recyclers are no longer accepting them.

  • Papers and cardboards are generally recyclable if they haven’t touched food.

  • Food containers, like those for yogurt, peanut butter or spaghetti sauce should be pretty well cleaned out, but it doesn’t have to be perfect - 95 percent is good! This is mostly because humans have to do some of the sorting and that food gets gross.

  • It’s actually better if your recycling is loose, not in grocery bags. That’s because recycling trucks compact the contents of your bin, and they can be hard for machines – or even people — to pull back apart if they’ve been squished together inside paper bags.

Courtesy of Kare 11

Imperfect Produce

This month, a beautiful thing happened. Imperfect Produce made their way to the Twin Cities. Founded in 2015, Imperfect rescues “ugly” or unmarketable produce from local farmers and grocery stores within each respective city in which they have become established. Their model gives a chance for farmers to be compensated for EVERYTHING they grow, not just the “nice” looking stuff. Resulting from this is a reduction in food waste. The cherry on top is that Imperfect also partners with nonprofits and food banks, addressing hunger as well. We think this is a win-win-win!


When co-founders Ben Simon and Ben Chesler launched Imperfect on August 8th, 2015, they had a vision of building a more sustainable and effective food system to better our communities and the environment. Since launch in 2015, Imperfect has recovered 40 million pounds of produce. In 2018 alone, Imperfect rescued 32 million pounds of produce and is projected to rescue 50 million pounds in 2019. They have donated over 2.1 million pounds of produce to over 70 nonprofit partners and food banks. In addition to rescuing food, Imperfect has saved 1.2 billion gallons of water, and 110 million pounds of carbon dioxide.

Food waste has reached extreme levels across the globe. Inextricably linked with the global hunger epidemic, it’s on all of us to address the issue. What we choose to consume, how we consume it, and how much of it we waste has plaguing ripple effects on the environment, economics, and people.

Food Waste By The Numbers:

-40% of all the food produced in the US goes uneaten. (Feeding America)

-20 billion pounds of produce from farms is unharvested or unsold each year. (Feeding America)

-For every 1 pound of farm level surplus recovered by food banks, there are still about 25 pounds of perfectly nutritious produce going to animal feed, compost, landfill, or being left in the fields. (Feeding America)

-Feeding America received 1.47 billion pounds of produce in 2017. Of that amount, roughly 10% of it comes from farms, leaving 20 billion pounds still wasted each year on farms. (Feeding America)

-Every year, 1.4 billion tons of food—a third of global production—ends up in landfills. By some estimates, this adds up to nearly $1 trillion of annual squander and the production of about 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gases. At the same time, nearly 800 million people go hungry every day. (ReFED)

-The U.S. wastes 63 million tons of food each year, for which farms make up 16%. The main offenders are individuals, contributing to about 43% of all the waste. (ReFED)

-30% of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming. (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

-Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food. (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

-Globally, 30% of food waste and loss comes from grains and 40-50% of food waste and loss comes from root crops, fruits and vegetables. (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

-Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization)

We received our first box of imperfect produce this week. We chose the “small organic box” for our first order; as a customer, you have the choice each week between four box types: Organic, All Fruit, All Veggie, or Mixed Fruit and Veggie. Each type has size options of small, medium, large, or extra large, and can be delivered weekly or every other week. Check out the contents of our first small organic box:

Our box included: 5 large rainbow carrots, a package of shishito peppers, 3 apples, 4 mandarins, 7 roma tomatoes, and 3 zucchini.

Our box included: 5 large rainbow carrots, a package of shishito peppers, 3 apples, 4 mandarins, 7 roma tomatoes, and 3 zucchini.

Cost Analysis

Imperfect’s Pricing Structure gives a price range for each box type and size, depending on how one chooses to customize their box. Ours ended up costing about $16, and we opted out of customizing our first box in order to see how much food would automatically be included in it.

Source: Imperfect Produce

Source: Imperfect Produce

Our price breakdown for estimated average grocery store prices of the veggies we got:

5 large organic carrots = $2

1 package organic shishito peppers = $2

3 organic apples = $2

4 organic mandarins = $2

7 organic roma tomatoes = $4

3 organic zucchini = $2


The amount of produce in our box, compared its estimated cost to what we actually paid, seemed to be slightly higher than what we would have expected. HOWEVER! When taking into account that this organic produce was delivered to our doorstep in addition to the benefits of reducing waste and financially supporting local farmers, a couple dollars extra seems completely worth it

Source: Imperfect Produce

Source: Imperfect Produce

Imperfect’s website is very user friendly. Each week, an email reminder is sent to customers letting them know when it’s time to customize their next box. The user profile page shows when your next box is scheduled to arrive. Another impressive feature of their website is the impact indicator, which shows you statistics about the impact of your purchases:

Source: Imperfect Produce

Source: Imperfect Produce

Of course, all of this fresh produce called for a day of cooking during this week’s blizzard in Minnesota. Anika made a pan full of roast veggies, zucchini banana bread, and blistered shishito peppers with sea salt. These peppers are very mild and slightly sweet. However, it is said that about 1 out of every 12 peppers is surprisingly hot!

Blistered shishito peppers in olive oil and sea salt

Blistered shishito peppers in olive oil and sea salt

Anika’s recipe:

1 package shishito peppers

3 tbsp olive oil

A few pinches of Sea salt

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan on low-medium heat (cast iron works best but we used a regular non-stick pan)

  2. Add peppers, toss until they’re coated in oil.

  3. Continue tossing intermittently until peppers begin blistering.

  4. Sprinkle with sea salt and toss again.

  5. Peppers are done when blistered to your liking! (5-15 mins)

  6. Devour whole (except stem) or chop up and add to other dishes.

All in all, we give imperfect 5 stars for produce content, dedication to their mission, and all of the benefits that come from it! We are sold!

Use our code, “nativesustainability” for 50% off your first box!

Contents of the small organic box

Contents of the small organic box

Imperfect is available in 18 markets across the United States, including:

    • Austin, TX

    • Baltimore, MD

    • Bay Area, CA

    • Chicago, IL

    • Dallas/Fort Worth, TX

    • Greater Sacramento Area, CA (including Davis)

    • Houston, TX

    • Indianapolis, IN

    • Los Angeles, CA

    • Milwaukee, WI

    • Montgomery County, MD

    • Northern Virginia, VA

    • Orange County, CA

    • Portland, OR

    • San Antonio, TX

    • San Diego, CA

    • Seattle, WA Metro Area (including Tacoma and Olympia)

    • Washington, D.C.

    • Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Natural problem-solving

This week, Megan had the opportunity to make a new friend at the Solid Waste Operator Conference co-hosted by the Air & Waste Management Association and SWANA - the Solid Waste Association of North America’s Land of Lakes Chapter. Meet Emma, a beautiful Harris Hawk with quite the resume.

Megan and Emma

Megan and Emma

Emma is just one of many predatory birds employed by Predator Birds Services Inc. (PBSI),  a company with a mission to solve pest problems in the most “natural” way possible - using nature itself. PBSI trains predatory birds to sustainably manage pests in settings such as landfills, airports, and more. Essentially, the predators create hostile environments for smaller nuisance birds such as Starlings, Gulls, Turkey Vulchers, etc. in order to deter these species from invading these environments.

Jackie and Emma

Jackie and Emma

The idea is simple - channeling ecological hierarchies that have been in place since before humans were even around - and yet seemingly innovative. Jackie, Emma’s handler, described the creative ways in which this system works, exemplifying how there truly is a job for everything.

Native strives to follow this model of sustainability in our work as well. Biomimicry - the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes- reinforces this idea; proving that nature has successfully fine-tuned methods of solving problems. If we pay attention to these methods, we have a better chance to create sustainable solutions in our complex world.

Click here to find out more about the birds and services of PBSI.

Taste The Waste

Calling all foodies and hunger fighters: Taste The Waste!

Interested in ways to learn more about solutions to the food waste? Need a break from cooking this week? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then mark your calendar for Taste The Waste, an interactive food waste awareness event this Thursday night, February 7th at the Red Stag Supperclub. The dinner will feature a series of small plate dishes created from recovered food, thanks to Twin Cities Coop Partners. Each ticket will also include a beer from Finnegans, a brewery dedicated to “turning beer into food” through local partnerships with farmers and hunger relief organizations.

Click to visit the Eventbrite registration page

Click to visit the Eventbrite registration page

The issue of wasted food has exploded to epidemic proportions, especially here in the United States. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council’s “Save The Food” initiative, 40% of food in the United States goes to waste, getting tossed instead of being consumed. Aggregated from not only restaurants and grocery stores, but from individual households, we all have a part in this wasted food. Not only does food waste result in tremendous environmental and social consequences, but there are also financial repercussions. Save The Food has calculated that a 4-person family can lose at least $1500 a year on food that gets tossed in the home!

The environmental impacts of wasted food are extensive; from the farming production resources expended, to processing and packaging, transportation, consumption, and finally to waste management; all food has a story. When food is thrown away, it is not only a waste of that physical item, but also of water, soil, fossil fuels, and human labor. For instance, Save The Food estimates that 1 pound of beef utilizes approximately the same amount of water as it takes to shower for 370 minutes. If that beef is never eaten, that is a lot of wasted resources.  

While 40% of food is going straight into the landfill, 40 million Americans are fighting hunger (Feeding America). Food insecurity issues surround us here in Minnesota, where 1 in 11 households are affected. Many local organizations, including food banks and shelves, farmers, restaurant partners, and more are working to solve this disconnect and improve these intertwined issues.

Consider attending Taste The Waste or getting involved in some other way!

Register Here: Taste The Waste


Save The Food

Feeding America


It’s an exciting time at Little Six Casino - the smaller casino next to Mystic Lake Hotel & Casino. We’ve launched a pilot to test a new compostable cup (say goodbye to the styrofoam!) as well as new collection containers on the casino floor, which adds traditional recycling, as well as organics recycling in the front-of-house. The new bins are labeled with Recycle Across America standardized signage, to make sure we’re doing everything possible to clean up the stream. Should all go well at Little Six, the hope is to convert all of Mystic’s front of house operations in 2019. We anticipate big diversion rates with this project! More to come.

New waste collection bins at Little Six Casino, featuring Recycle Across America standardized signs.

New waste collection bins at Little Six Casino, featuring Recycle Across America standardized signs.

China's National Sword Policy

Changes in the Recycling Industry

Big things could be around the corner as China has instituted their National Sword Policy - reducing the level of accepted contamination in recycling coming from overseas. In our home base of Minnesota, that is less of an issue as we have a fair amount of local and regional markets who take our recyclables and make them into new products. 

California is a different story. Resource Recycling recently had an article that stated "About 85 percent of mixed paper and OCC (old corrugated cardboard) exported out of California has been bound for China in recent years" and that "62 percent of the (15 million tons) of exported material went to China in 2016". What that means is that millions of tons of recyclable materials could be heading to the landfill. Read the full article here.

Do your part. Know what recyclables are accepted by your hauler. Implement standardized signage from Recycle Across America at your schools, churches, offices, sports fields, etc. so that we can give everyone the chance to #RecycleRight. And let your elected officials know that environmental causes and green jobs are important to you and to our communities!  

Example of Recycle Across America's standardized signage in use. These signs are used at U.S. Bank Stadium, MSP Airport, the MN State Fair, throughout the National Park System and countless other locations across the country. If you fly from Orlando to JFK in New York, you'll see the same signs on the bins, which will help you #RecycleRight   

Example of Recycle Across America's standardized signage in use. These signs are used at U.S. Bank Stadium, MSP Airport, the MN State Fair, throughout the National Park System and countless other locations across the country. If you fly from Orlando to JFK in New York, you'll see the same signs on the bins, which will help you #RecycleRight



Recycling Bin Rental Program

Need Event Recycling? Check out the Minnesota Recycling Bin Program!

There is a program available to help maximize your recycling collection at events throughout the State through the rental of additional recycling containers for your venue or event. This service is supported by the Minnesota Beverage Association and their bottling members, to help increase recycling rates throughout Minnesota. Bins are available from as few as 20, up to 250, and boast the Recycle Across America standardized signage. Partner up to help enhance your program’s recycling goals!

Get a customized quote here.



Wish-Cycling is the desire to recycle everything possible, even if it's not actually recyclable. The Minneapolis Star Tribune just had an article on these lofty recycling behaviors. See more HERE.

One of the challenges of this industry is that often MRF's (Materials Recovery Facility) accept different materials. And that even though some things are recyclable - say plastic bags - it doesn't mean it can go to the same facility. 

Plastic bags are a great example. They are 100% percent recyclable. However... they totally mess up sorting machines. Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis has stated that they spend hours, HOURS, everyday, with the MRF machines down, picking bags out of the system.  

So. Thank you. Thank you for wanting to do the right thing. For hoping that all of your materials end up as new items to be used again and again. But the best line of defense...

When in doubt, throw it out! 


The problem with the chasing arrow...

Listen to NPR/Pulse Radio and our friends at Recycle Across America weigh in on the struggles of our current recycling system in the US.

Did you know the recycling symbol was designed by a 23 architecture student as part of a design competition? And was only meant to represent paper and cardboard recycling only.

Contaminated streams are expensive to manage, have a high loss of valuable material because it's dirty, and cause equipment failures. 

We engaged Recycle Across America in our work with the Minnesota State Fair because we believe in their process. Consistency. And signs that make sense. 




Increasing Recycling at the Great Minnesota Get Together!

Now in our third year working with the Minnesota State Fair, my business partner Mark (with Connect Ecology) and I did what we do best - pulled together diverse partners to create a project with tangible environmental results, and cost savings for our clients. 

The partnership connected the MN State Fair Foundation with resources from the MN Beverage Association and American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America to increase the amount of recycling containers available for attendees by nearly 85%. From 435 containers in 2015, to 795 containers this year - 260 of them with updated signage. More access to containers, with clear messaging means more materials collected. And with a record setting attendance for the 2016 Fair, we hope for impressive results. 

The partnership also saw the value in partnering with in Recycle Across America for the clear, consistent, nationally recognized standardized signage, teaching people to recycle right. If we see the same messages at each bin, in every city, it creates a consistent comfort in knowing how to properly sort. Creating a clean stream for processing (ensuring all items are recycled and not rejected) creates valuable material to be returned to the bottlers, who are vey interested in using post-consumer plastics whenever possible. 

The project garnered 11 media stories - drawing more attention to the importance of recycling. Click here to read one of them!

Every step counts. There are always ways to improve. Increased access and visibility to recycling led the way this year. Keep an eye out for bigger things to come! 

International Compost Awareness Week

May 1-7 is the US Composting Council's International Compost Awareness Week. 

This years theme focuses on the benefit of water conservation of compost. The International Compost Awareness Committee chose this year's theme to bring attention to the role of compost in healthy soil to address growing drought and food insecurity issues across the world.  

Follow the US Composting Council on Twitter - @USCompostingCou - for more information! 

Earth Day!

For me, Earth Day is every day. I spent the celebrated Earth Day (April 22) teaching elementary students at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial School about compost, with Full Circle Organics.

Lake Crystal began collecting organics for recycling at the beginning of the school year. Earth Day was an opportunity to connect with each student and explain the industrial composting process to them. We brought examples of the nitrogen (greens) and carbon (browns) and the finished compost, showing them what's happening to their school lunches.

Organics recycling is starting to be more widely available throughout the state of Minnesota. Full Circle is one of the largest processors, with sites in Becker, Good Thunder and Shakopee. They also offer depackaging and preprocessing - allowing organics diversion from a part of the waste stream that previously wasn't able to be addressed.

If you don't currently have organics recycling, ask you hauler and call your city representatives. The more you ask, the faster it will happen!

America Recycles Day - Nov. 15, 2015

November 15th is America Recycles Day. It is a day to celebrate our nation’s progress in recycling, but also reflect on its problems. The New York Times op-ed written last month by John Tierney sparked outrage nationwide and received a whopping 487 comments on the web. Although there are MANY holes in his arguments and he seems to express an opinion against recycling, John acknowledges there is a lack of incentives for recycling in America.

An Economist article published in April discusses the state of recycling in America. Companies want to use recycled material, but it is costly compared to virgin material AND there is a low supply. The country’s recycling rate has been stagnant at 34% for 2 decades. Americans THROW AWAY $11.4 billion of recyclables per year, even though recycling an aluminum can emits 95% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Let's face it, America, we have a recycling problem.

Recycling has great economic, environmental, and community benefits, SO let's do something about it! When you throw something in the recycling bin, you are consciously making an effort to reduce your carbon footprint. This great ad campaign by Keep America Beautiful captures what could happen if we simply closed the loop-

It’s not complicated. You don’t have to rally your politicians or stop using your car. We just have to put materials in the right bin AND tell your friends and family to join. For America Recycles Day, take the pledge here.

And on November 15th, find a way to increase your personal recycling rate by reusing waste in some way, bringing food residue to a compost drop-off site, or making signs on your garbage bin that read- "Can I be recycled?"

And that, America, is how we RECYCLE.

Your Cereal Box

When you buy a $3 box of cereal, you are purchasing more than just 6 to 7 bowls of sugary goodness. You are purchasing the packaging, which includes the box AND the plastic bag inside the box. The other month there was a sale on Malt O’ Meal brand cereal and I decided to give up my General Mills loyalty to try them out. But these "Spooners" come in a bag, so I also gave up the box.

Malt O’ Meal started a campaign called - Bag the Box. It is exactly what it entails. To reduce packaging waste, their cereals are in a sturdy plastic bag instead of a box. Check out this video:

But that’s not all Malt-O-Meal (MOM) is doing to reduce packaging waste. If you take a look at their cereal bags you will find, next to the “Bag the Box” label, the TerraCycle label.

The international company’s slogan is “Eliminating the Idea of Waste”. Their mission is to turn common waste materials, like MOM brand cereal bags, Clif Bar wrappers, and applesauce pouches, into innovative products. The first step is to select the “brigade”, then gather the materials, and ship them to the nearest collection site where they will be creatively reused. The MOM products brigade is shown below:

More information about TerraCycle can be found here.

This is just one example of a company's successful waste reduction campaign, but there are ways that you, as a consumer, can reduce packaging waste. Here are some ways to REDUCE packaging waste with your groceries:

  • skip the individually wrapped snacks - chip bags, cheese sticks, granola bars, apple sauce pouches, juice cartons - although these are easier to use, especially with kids, try using reusable containers, bottles, and bags

  • buy in bulk - (this saves $$$ too)

  • purchase loose produce ... and reuse your produce bags

  • avoid Styrofoam at all costs

  • opt for brands, like Malt O’ Meal, that use less packaging

In the hierarchy of waste management, reduction is ranked as the highest priority, above reuse and recycling. You can start making reduction a priority in your home starting with the grocery store.