Seattle-based Ridwell has had success persuading Minnesotans to easily dispose of difficult-to-recycle goods since beginning operations in select Twin Cities ZIP areas in January.
By collecting and recycling waste materials that public agencies won’t take up, such as plastic shopping bags, used clothes, and new this fall, Styrofoam, Ridwell aims to make sustainability easier.
E.J. Tso, general manager of Ridwell’s St. Paul site, stated, “When you look in a trash, there’s simply so much more that really can be recycled, but it’s hard because it’s either little, it’ll jam up recycling companies’ gear, or it’s incredibly costly.” Batteries, for instance, are something you really don’t want to throw away, so hearing a municipality say, “Oh, you can just put them in your garbage,” sort of kills you.
At the moment, over 4,000 Twin Cities residents subscribe to Ridwell’s biweekly collections.
With existing borders in the north near Brooklyn Center, west to Minnetonka, south to Eden Prairie, and east to Maplewood, the firm is extending its reach into the Twin Cities. According to Tso, Ridwell expands into new communities in response to requests from locals who submit their ZIP codes on the business’ website.
Members get a white bin and a set of five bags, each of which is designated for a different type of items: plastic bags and film, clothes, fabric, and shoes, home batteries, and light bulbs. Price varies by area and is around $16 per month for a three-month pricing plan.
A separate “featured category” is also included in each pickup; in the past, examples of this category have included electronics, towels, and linens.
At Ridwell’s facilities in St. Paul, the collected goods are sorted and packed before being sent to regional and international partners for reuse and repurposing, such Loaves and Fishes and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota.
Tso said that Ridwell makes sure all materials are recycled responsibly, or in the case of soft plastics, “upcycled” if they agree that government agencies won’t recycle them.
Ridwell delivers Trex, a firm situated in Virginia, the plastic film they have collected from all of their sites, where it is melted down to create deck boards.
In certain towns and counties, some of the goods that Ridwell takes up may be disposed of without cost. In order to provide more of these services to citizens in the future and lessen the need for private firms like Ridwell to cover the gaps, Ramsey County, which manages the waste management of its communities, is trying to do so.
According to Lynn Hoffman, co-president of Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit organization that collects recyclables from St. Paul residents, “not everyone can afford that kind of service, so from like an equity and accessibility angle, we hope our communities can move to offering easier drop-off or easier collection for some of those harder-to-recycle items.”
Repowered, an electronics recycler with offices in Ramsey County and the Twin Cities, launched a collection location for used electronics in St. Paul in August. On November 19, it also started its monthly “Fix-It Clinics” again following a two-year break caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. These clinics provide free repairs for clothes, furniture, and electronics in an effort to reduce the need to dispose of these goods altogether.
According to Rae Eden Frank, interim manager of Ramsey County’s environmental health division, “the purpose of all of this is to keep as much as we can out of the garbage… and then raising the recycling rate, pushing items up on the waste hierarchy.”
Eden Frank reported that Ramsey and Washington counties are teaming together to establish a pilot program in 2019 that will free of charge collect food scraps from homes for composting on normal trash collection days.
“Food waste makes up a significant portion of what is put in the trash can, so if we can remove it and then compost it, we’ll significantly help minimize the amount of garbage that can’t be recycled,” said Eden Frank.
Tso is aware that some consumers may not want to pay more for Ridwell’s services given the availability of free public services. He contends, however, that many people are more inclined to recycle when they are not required to spend additional time looking for venues to dispose of their difficult-to-recycle products and getting there.
‘I already know where to go with these things,’ some people may respond. Tso said, “Why would I pay for a service? “And I recognize that completely. The ease of coming to you only once instead of having to leave your home five times with your car running on gas is the solution.
With the creation of an Environmental Service Center, Ramsey County officials want to eventually provide a comparable degree of ease to subscription services like Ridwell.
The facility, which is slated to be built at 1700 Kent St. in Roseville, would serve as a “one-stop shop,” offering space for Fix-It Clinics, environmental education, and events, as well as the ability to dispose of electronics and household hazardous trash. By the end of 2025, according to Frank, the new facility is anticipated to be completed.
Tso said that Ridwell views any rivalry with their services as advantageous since they want to eliminate waste as much as possible.
“We believe it’s kind of a win-win for us and for the environment if there are other individuals attempting to grab items out of the trash cans and remove something from the waste stream and incinerators,” said Tso.
This year, Ridwell is giving gift cards for anyone seeking to refer others to the program, with $10 from each gift card sale going toward providing the service to families who would not otherwise be able to afford it. This month, the business also made an app available to subscribers so they could control their subscriptions.