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St. Cloud food recycling site prepares to open

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Managers of a St. Cloud compost site hope to start receiving food scraps as soon as this week now that they've obtained a state permit to accept organic waste.

The organic matter will be mixed with yard waste and composted into a nutrient-rich product that will be sold to farmers, gardeners and landscapers.

Tri-County Organics is among a rising number of food recycling facilities across the state and country, and part of growing focus on recycling the food scraps, paper towels and other organic materials that make up a growing share of the waste stream, the St. Cloud Times reported Monday.

"Now it's not being landfilled or incinerated," said Jamie Phenow, general manager of Tri-County Organics. "It's being reintroduced to the soil, where it should be."

Small-scale efforts have been going on for years. Many homeowners collect kitchen scraps for backyard compost piles. Some large institutions such as St. Cloud Hospital have their own composting systems, while the College of St. Benedict sends its food waste to a hog farm.

Doug Lien, a planner with the Tri-County Solid Waste Commission, has been talking with the St. Cloud school district and other institutions about sending their food waste, paper serving containers and paper towels to the site.

"All of the sudden, it's an option now that we didn't have up until this week," Lien said.

Initially, Tri-County Organics is not accepting organic waste from individuals. But Phenow believes eventually cities and garbage haulers will offer curbside pickup.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is updating its rules to foster more organic compost sites. The existing rules were designed for either small-scale sites for yard waste such as leaves and grass clippings, or for large-scale operations that had to meet strict standards designed for landfills, said Mark Rust, a solid waste specialist with the agency.

A recent MPCA study found the portion of organics in the waste stream has grown to 31 percent in 2012 from 26 percent in 2000. The agency estimates more than 519,000 tons of food waste could be composted annually.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.