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State nonprofit's aim is zero waste

Rick Colden with Alexandria Industries shows Jill Curran from the Minnesota Waste Wise Foundation the inside of a semi-trailer that's filled with aluminum scrap for recycling. (Contributed)1 / 2
Jill Curran, executive director of Waste Wise, met with Rick Colden, head of Alexandria Industries' maintenance department. (Contributed) 2 / 2

The Minnesota Waste Wise Foundation has been providing safe, cost-saving alternatives for environmental sustainability to Minnesota businesses since 1994.

The nonprofit organization is a partnership between the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the state of Minnesota that provides sustainability consulting, project funding assistance, energy benchmarking and more. Its supporters, which come from a variety of Minnesota counties as well as energy companies, work together to provide businesses with energy rebates and grants for more energy-efficient materials.

Waste Wise Executive Director Jill Curran says the program has two main goals: "Zero waste, on the waste front, and net zero energy on the energy front. Not many people get there. Also on the energy front (is) using renewable energy as much as possible ... to offset what you're using in electric or natural gas."

Curran was in Alexandria Monday, June 11, to conduct waste and energy assessments at Alexandria Industries. She asked the company questions about its sustainability efforts — lighting, energy use, water use, recycling and more, according to Patty Hoffman, marketing and communications specialist with Alexandria Industries.

Curran then took a tour.

"She asked to look into our garbage and recycling bins because experience tells her some folks toss items in the wrong bins," Hoffman said. "She wanted to see for herself if we have a similar experience. We do, but not anything significant."

Curran recommended putting printed notices above the bins showing images of items that typically go into each designated bin.

After the tour, Curran told Alexandria Industries officials that they do a great job with sustainability efforts, Hoffman noted. Curran will create a report based on her tour and make recommendations to the company.

The program's impact has been felt in other Minnesota businesses, as well.

For example, The St. Paul Hotel worked with Waste Wise and several other companies to improve its organic recycling program. The hotel saved $5,000 in waste hauling costs in the first six months of the program, according to Minnesota Waste Wise, which stated that "improved training and right-sizing of the hotel's single stream recycling service has also increased diversion rates for these materials by an estimated 156,675 pounds per year."

That has led The Saint Paul Hotel to achieve a 90 percent recycling rate, the organization said. Waste Wise also estimated that the organics diversion and recycling program has reduced carbon emissions by 159 metric tons, "the equivalent to taking 410 cars off the road."

Curran just wants businesses to know that resources are out there.

"It can be pretty ominous trying to think about doing some of this stuff for businesses because they are so busy trying to keep their door open and pay their employees. But there are a lot of resources out there to help, so you can always start with us. And if we're not able to serve you for whatever reason, we can find someone who will," said Curran.

For more information on Waste Wise, its partners and application information, visit its website at

Echo Press News Editor Al Edenloff contributed to this story.