Sustainability Sam

Welcome to a new feature offered by our Environmental Committee! Each month, Sustainability Sam will answer your questions about how you can be more sustainable. Send your questions to SustainabilitySam@tangletown.org for a chance to be featured in an upcoming response.

February 2019:

Dear Sustainability Sam,

What does the city do with the Organics they collect? Do they actually do something with it or does it go to a landfill?

-Holly

———————————————–

Dear Holly,
That’s a great question!  I often wonder if all the effort I’m making to dispose of household waste properly is actually making a difference.  In this case, the answer is definitely “Yes!”

Minneapolis organics recycling does NOT end up in a landfill.  It is collected and delivered to a facility in Rosemount that mixes the organics waste with yard waste to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment for use in gardens, landscaping, and even road construction. The process takes 6 months to a year to complete and involves a lot of mixing and temperature reading to ensure the resulting compost is of high quality.  This compost is then made available to the public to purchase for use in their own landscaping and gardens and around 600 cubic yards of compost is given back to the city of Minneapolis each year for use in parks and community gardens.

Organics recycling is well worth the effort because it is beneficial to the environment in a variety of ways:

1.  Waste reduction.  A 2016 study by Hennepin County found that organics make up around 25% of our garbage so organics recycling is a relatively easy and very important way to reduce the amount of trash we produce.

2. Greenhouse Gas Reduction.  Organics that end up in landfills generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Diverting organics to composting helps to reduce landfill methane emissions.

3. Water Quality and Conservation. When nutrient-rich compost is added to soil, it reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides. It also increases the water retention of soil, which reduces runoff and erosion that can pollute our water and helps to conserve water.

Like all recycling,  there are rules to follow with organics recycling to ensure that the resulting collection is not contaminated.  You can access the guidelines here.  If you have any questions about organic recycling the city has helpful information here.  And if you would like to purchase compost made using the organics the city collects you can buy it here.

Sincerely,

Sustainability Sam

January 2019:

Dear Sustainability Sam,

I have gotten several ads for solar energy/joining on a solar energy grid. Not sure how it works, or if it’s a scam. Anybody using? Would love to participate if it helps save energy, and if it’s legit too, of course.

-Joan

***

Dear Joan,

I have heard this question asked by several neighbors and am guessing many others are wondering the same thing.

The advertisements you are getting are likely asking you to subscribe to a Community Solar Garden.  Several years back this new product took shape in Minnesota as a way for residents and businesses to invest in and “use” solar energy without installing panels on their own roof.  

It works kind of like subscribing to a CSA, where you sign up to get a certain amount of vegetables from a local farmer.  With Community Solar Gardens, you subscribe to a certain amount of energy from the solar developer’s “garden” based on the amount of electricity your home (or business) uses.  The exact electrons from that solar garden don’t go into your home, they go into Xcel’s electricity grid that powers our city, but you are offsetting your home’s usage with solar.  The solar garden itself may be located anywhere in the same or adjacent county to your home. Although some solar gardens will be on urban rooftops, most will be in rural fields due to economies of scale from the large fields, and difficulty in finding urban buildings to host.  

When you subscribe, you pay the solar developer for your subscription and Xcel Energy reimburses you for the energy your subscription produces.  This reimbursement comes in the form of a credit on your Xcel Energy bill.

Why has this product become so popular?  In addition to the environmental benefits, it can offer projected financial savings for the subscriber.  Part of the projected savings comes from a government credit that makes your solar energy worth slightly more than conventional non-renewable energy.  Another part of your projected savings may come from the ability to lock into a subscription rate structure that is expected to be better than future energy costs, saving you money over time.  

When considering participating,  you should evaluate the savings projections to see if you agree with them and are comfortable with the terms. It’s also important that the language in the contract aligns with what you’ve been told.  If a salesperson uses high-pressure tactics, that could be a red flag; you should be allowed time to read the subscription contract before signing.

With a pay-as-you-go subscription, (which most are), you shouldn’t have to worry about whether the solar garden produces well or not.  The logistics would likely be that you pay your monthly subscription based on anticipated production, you get monthly reimbursements from Xcel based on actual production, and there would be an annual reconciliation to adjust for any difference between anticipated and actual production, so that you only pay for what was produced.  For example, if you subscribe to 2% of a garden you pay for 2% of its production and get reimbursed by Xcel for 2% of its production, (and the rate you are reimbursed is hopefully more than the rate you pay.)

The thing that gives most people pause is that subscriptions are typically for 25 years.  Nearly everyone says, “I don’t know where I’ll be in 25 years”. Solar developers know that and will include language in the subscription contract about what happens if you need to exit your subscription early.  You’ll want to pay attention to the early termination terms.

  1. In answer to your question about whether these are “legit”, yes as a product they are legit.  But, contract terms and sales methods will vary from one developer to another. Below are some key variables to pay attention to in a subscription contract (of course you’ll want to read the full contract before signing).
  2. Subscription rate (price you pay per kWh in year 1)
  3. Escalator (% your subscription rate increases each year)
  4. Early Termination… what happens if you
    1. Move and become ineligible for your subscription (note: you can likely transfer your subscription to a new home if it’s in the same same or adjacent county to the solar garden).
    2. Downsize to a home with smaller energy use
    3. Pass away

The idea is that while you hopefully benefit financially, you are also offsetting your electricity with clean, renewable energy.  

For more information, the MN Department of Commerce has some guidance on their website.

Sincerely,

Sustainability Sam

_________________________________

December 2018:

Dear Sustainability Sam,

The holidays generate so much garbage!  What can be recycled and what are some ways I can cut down on generating so much waste?

Sincerely,

Keri

Dear Keri,

This is a timely and important question! From leftovers that don’t get eaten, to the large garbage bags filled with wrapping and packaging, holidays do indeed generate a lot of waste. Thanks to the internet and social media, there are abundant resources on how to have a meaningful holiday of giving without all of the garbage and waste. All of these ideas have one thing in common–reduction.

Here are 4 simple ways to reduce waste this holiday season:

      1. Gift experiences, not things. Theater or game tickets, activity passes, online subscriptions, and memberships to museums are meaningful, thoughtful, and personal. Last year I gave my son a membership to a climbing gym. Not only did he love it, but it was a great way to burn the energy of a tween boy in the cold winter months! One of my own favorite gifts from a few years ago was a pottery workshop at Northern Clay Center.
      1. When gifting things, choose gifts with little to no packaging. If packaged, choose packaging that is easily recycled like cardboard and paperbox board. And don’t forget your reusable bags when you’re out shopping–they’re not just for groceries! In addition, scrap the traditional wrapping paper and tissue which often contain mixed materials (like glitter and foil) and therefore are not able to be recycled. Instead, use wrapping that is sustainable and reusable, such as sturdy gift bags, old maps and newspapers, or a reusable decorative cloth and ribbon (pictured here). Find inspiration on Instagram by searching for the hashtags #scrapthewrap and #furoshiki. Learn the unique art of Furoshiki gift wrapping on YouTube.
      1. Reduce food waste by planning ahead. Share a menu with your guests and have a sign up for those who are bringing food to avoid duplicates or too much of something. Communicate a head count to everyone contributing and use a portion planning calculator like savethefood.com to help figure out how much food is really needed, including just the right amount of delicious leftovers. It’s good for the planet, your wallet, and your waistline.
    1. Use reusable plates, silverware, glassware, and serverware. Ask a few guests to bring silverware, plates, and glasses instead of food. Rent dishes and glassware from a local party rental shop. If you have to use disposable, choose BPI- or Cedar Grove-certified compostable and place them in your Minneapolis curbside organics bin for collection.

Have a wonderful, warm, and waste-free holiday!

Sincerely,

Sustainability Sam

X