Food Scraps Pickup Program FAQ

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Questions

Program Overview

Why collect food scraps?

Food scraps comprise about 20% of trash collected in Ramsey and Washington counties, by weight. The counties are developing a new way to recover this material so that it can be converted back into soil, rather than becoming waste. Recovering food scraps from trash will help reach the state’s recycling goals and provide health, environmental, and economic benefits to the community.

Does this mean I don't need to worry about food waste?

Reducing waste is the most environmentally preferred strategy for waste management. Food that goes uneaten wastes money and resources, and negatively impacts the environment. Ramsey and Washington counties offer resources and education to support food waste reduction and will continue to do so. Learn more about food waste reduction.

Why use food scrap bags instead of separate carts?

Food scrap bags are a more efficient and cost-effective method of collecting food scraps from Ramsey and Washington County residents’ homes than a separate collection cart because:

  • According to the counties' analysis, a system using food scrap bags costs ten times less than a system that uses separate collection carts.
  • Food scrap bags do not require additional collection days, collection carts, or hauling trucks
  • Using food scrap bags instead of a separate cart system keeps fewer collection trucks on the road resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Food scrap bags allows all residents to participate, regardless of their housing type, city or hauler.

How is the food scrap pickup program being paid for?

Ramsey and Washington counties are funding parts of this program (food scrap bags, customer service, website and education) with funds from the County Environmental Charge (CEC) that each county collects. This service charge is included on your waste collection bill and funds both counties’ waste programs.

The improvements at the Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy Center to separate food scrap bags from the trash for composting is funded by a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which was part of the 2020 Minnesota State bonding bill. Facility improvements are also funded by the fee that trash haulers pay to deliver trash to the R&E Center.

What does it mean that the program is rolling out in phases?

The food scraps pickup program model has not been implemented at this scale before. To ensure the program is successful, Ramsey and Washington counties are rolling out the program in phases and planning to make adjustments as needed. Each phase will include new eligible areas. The timeline of these phases is subject to change and will be adjusted as the counties learn more about how to make the program successful.

Throughout rollout, only eligible areas within the counties will have their food scrap bags sorted. More information about program rollout can be found here.

Will Ramsey and Washington counties' food scrap drop-off sites still be available?

Yes. The food scraps pickup program will be one part of a larger system for collecting food scraps. You may prefer the drop-off sites or backyard composting - do what works best for you!

How will residents know how to use the program?

Ramsey and Washington counties are launching a robust educational campaign on how to participate in the program, how to receive food scrap bags, and what materials are accepted. Consistent, frequent messaging will continue during and after the program rollout.

Program Logistics

How will food scraps be collected?

Food scraps are collected using special bags, called “food scrap bags,” that are co-collected in the same container with trash. With this system, food scraps bags and bags of trash all go in the same trash can.

Food scrap bags must be placed in your residential trash cart, dumpster or trash chute in eligible areas in order to be collected and sorted. Do not place food scrap bags in dumpsters or trash carts that are not eligible to participate in the program.

After collection, the food scrap bags are separated from the trash bags and brought to an industrial compost facility.

What happens to my food scrap bag after I put it in my trash?

After you place your food scrap bag inside your trash cart, dumpster, or trash chute, your trash is collected as usual. Only food scrap bags used at home and placed in residential trash carts, dumpsters or trash chutes will be collected and sorted. Your trash hauler will pick up your trash—with the food scrap bags—on your regular collection day.

The trash is brought to the Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy Center (R&E) in Newport, where the food scrap bags are separated from your trash by machinery that is programmed to recognize and separate the bags.

The food scrap bags and their contents are then sent to an industrial composting facility and turned into nutrient-rich soil called “compost.”

Ramsey and Washington counties have worked together to manage waste responsibly since the 1980s. Today, the counties work jointly through R&E. All trash generated by individuals and businesses in the two counties is delivered to R&E.

How are the bags sorted from the trash?

Robotic sorting technology will be used to separate the food scrap bags from the trash. Video of the robots sorting food scrap bags is available to view on the learn more page.

How do I get food scrap bags?

You can order them on our website or by calling 651-661-9393 (multi-lingual options available). Food scrap bags are shipped directly to your household.

Can I get a smaller quantity of food scrap bags?

Not at this time.

How do I use food scrap bags in my home? What container should I use, and where should I store it?

There is no one correct set up to participate in the food scraps pickup program! There are many different kinds and sizes of containers that can be used for food scrap collection. We recommend finding a container and place to keep it that works best for you. See possible storage and set up options.

Will collecting food scraps make my home smell?

Using food scrap bags is just a different way of collecting the same material that's currently going in your trash. Like your trash, if you take your food scrap bags out to your garbage cart or dumpster regularly, odors should not be an issue.

Do you provide a food scraps collection container?

No, Ramsey and Washington counties are not providing collection containers for the food scraps pickup program.

Are pizza boxes accepted?

No. Pizza boxes take up a lot of space in food scrap bags and aren't the main material that the program is intending to collect. Even better than composting pizza boxes is recycling them! Many recycling haulers will collect pizza boxes for recycling - check with your recycling hauler on whether they accept pizza boxes. If not, you can bring pizza boxes to a county food scraps drop-off site. Information on Ramsey County drop-off sites is available here, and information on Washington County drop-off sites is available here.

Program Participation

Who can participate?

All residents of Ramsey and Washington counties can participate in the program.

Can I participate if I live in an apartment building or condo?

Yes!

How much does it cost to participate?

Food scrap bags and program participation are FREE to residents in both Ramsey and Washington counties.

When will the program be available in my community?

The food scraps pickup program will start rolling out to all residents of Ramsey and Washington counties in 2023. You can check if you’re eligible to participate here. To learn more, visit the program rollout page.

I use a different hauler than my neighbor. Can we both participate?

Yes, all residents of Ramsey and Washington counties can participate regardless of hauler.

Do I need to sign up with my hauler?

No, you do not need to sign up with your hauler.

Do I have to participate?

No. This is a voluntary, opt-in program.

Will this service be available to businesses?

Not at this time. Ramsey and Washington counties are exploring this possibility.

Can I get finished compost if I participate in the program?

Compost derived from yard waste is seasonally available at Ramsey County yard waste sites for free to residents. Washington County is exploring this option at its yard waste sites.

I had a missed pickup with my trash. What should I do?

Contact your waste hauler to report a missed pickup.

Bags

How are food scrap bags different than other compostable bags?

Food scrap bags are durable and compostable. They are thicker than the compostable bags currently used at county drop-off sites or sold in retail stores or online, and are designed to withstand the journey in a garbage truck. The bags are also certified compostable, designed to eventually break down along with their contents. Compostable bags that are not provided by Ramsey and Washington counties will not work for this program.

How do I choose which size food scrap bag to order?

Food scrap bags come in two sizes:

  • 6-gallon (about the size of a bathroom trash can)
  • 13-gallon (about the size of a kitchen trash can)

In program testing, the smaller bag size (6-gallon) was the preferred size for most households, but choose the bag size that you think would work best for you. Consider the following factors:

  • Storage: What size container do you plan to use with the bags? The 6-gallon bags work better with smaller containers. See ideas for home set up.
  • Home/kitchen size: The 6-gallon bags may work better for smaller spaces.
  • Household size: Larger families may prefer the 13-gallon bags.
  • Cooking frequency: If you cook a lot, you might have more food scraps and may prefer the 13-gallon bags.

What if I want both bag sizes? Do you offer that option?

Not at this time.

I prefer smaller compostable bags. Why aren't these provided as part of this program?

Smaller bags cannot be detected by the machinery that separates the food scrap bags from the trash.

What can I put in my food scrap bags? And what can't I put in them?

A complete list of items that can and cannot be put in your food scrap bags is available here on our website. View the list on our Learn More page.

How full does my food scrap bag have to be?

Food scrap bags do not need to be filled to any minimum level to be sorted, but we recommend changing your bag about once per week.

How do I tie the bag?

Tie the top of the food scrap bag like you would tie a balloon. You can see how to tie your food scrap bag by watching this video. Tying the bags correctly helps ensure that the bags and its contents make it through the collection and sorting process.

It is difficult for me to tie the food scrap bag. Do you have any suggestions to make it easier?

Consider ordering the larger (13-gallon) food scrap bags and leave more room at the top of the bag before tying. This can make it easier to tie.

How can the food scrap bags withstand the trip in a garbage truck?

Food scrap bags provided by Ramsey and Washington counties are specifically designed for this program. These bags are different than the ones offered at county food scraps drop-off sites or bags currently sold at retailers or online. The bags are about three times as thick as a grocery store plastic bag and meet special standards for strength. The counties have tested the bags in actual loads of garbage to make sure they don't break during transit. Compostable bags that are not provided by the county will not work for this program.

What do I do if a food scrap bag breaks?

Put the torn food scrap bag and its contents into a new food scrap bag and put it in your trash cart or dumpster.

Can I use other compostable bags?

No, you must use food scrap bags provided by Ramsey and Washington counties which are designed to hold up on the trip in a garbage truck and be detected by machinery that will separate them from the trash. Other bags sold in stores or online will not be identified for separation and may not withstand the trip in a garbage truck.

Can I put smaller compostable bags inside larger compostable bags?

Yes, but the bags must be BPI-certified and be put into a Ramsey and Washington county-provided food scrap bag for collection. Bags will only be sorted from the trash if they are inside county-provided bags. If you purchase other bags, look for the BPI certification logo pictured below.

Leaf logo with BPI Compostable text

Is it ok to put food scrap bags inside regular trash bags?

No, the food scrap bags will not be identified for separation from the trash if they are inside a regular trash bag.

How do I store the bags before use?

Unused food scrap bags should be stored in a cool, dry location. Excess moisture and heat may damage the bags. It is recommended that you use your supply of food scrap bags within a year from your order date.

When do food scrap bags expire?

It is recommended that you use your supply of food scrap bags within a year from your order date.

Orders & Account

Additional Help

If I have feedback for the program, where can I provide it?

We welcome your input! The food scraps pickup program model has not been implemented at this scale before. Ramsey and Washington counties will be evaluating the implementation of the new program on an ongoing basis and adjusting as we roll out. Please use our contact form to provide us with your feedback.

Still have questions?

Please call our 24/7 customer service line 651-661-9393 for help with additional questions.