Ridwell subscription recycling service expanding in Twin Cities

Since launching in specific Twin Cities ZIP codes in January, Seattle-based Ridwell has seen success selling Minnesotans on easy disposal of hard-to-recycle items.

Ridwell hopes to make sustainability simpler by collecting and recycling items that public services won’t pick up, including plastic shopping bags, old clothing and new this fall, Styrofoam.

“When you look in a dumpster, there’s just so much more that actually can be recycled, but it’s hard because it’s either small, it’ll clog up recycling facilities’ machinery or it’s really expensive,” said EJ Tso, general manager of Ridwell’s St. Paul facility. “Batteries, for example, when I hear a municipality say, ‘Oh, you can just put them in your trash,’ it kind of kills you a little bit; you really don’t want that to go in the trash.”

Currently, about 4,000 Twin Cities members receive biweekly collections through Ridwell’s subscription service.

The company is expanding its reach into the Twin Cities, with current boundaries north near Brooklyn Center, west to Minnetonka, south to Eden Prairie and east to Maplewood. Tso said Ridwell extends into new neighborhoods based on demand from residents entering their ZIP codes on the company’s website.

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A person holds a handful of glasses and sunglasses.
General manager EJ Tso holds a handful of recycled eyeglasses at the Ridwell facility in St. Paul on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. Ridwell collects hard-to-recycle items from customers and finds homes for them with various partners. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

At about $16 a month for a three-month pricing plan, though pricing depends on location, members receive a white bin and set of five bags, each of which is dedicated to a different category of items: plastic bags and film, clothing, fabric and shoes, household batteries and light bulbs.

Each pickup also includes a different “featured category,” which in the past has included corks, electronics, towels and linens.

Collected items are then sorted and packaged at Ridwell’s St. Paul facility and distributed to local and national partners, such as Loaves and Fishes and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, which repurpose and reuse the items.

Tso said Ridwell ensures all materials they take are sustainably recycled, or in the case of the soft plastics they accept that government services will not, “upcycled.”

Ridwell sends the plastic film they collect from all their locations to Virginia-based company Trex, which melts it down to make deck boards.

Public services expanding

Some of the items Ridwell picks up can be disposed of free of charge in certain cities and counties. Ramsey County, which oversees its cities’ waste management, is working to offer more of these types of services to residents in the future, reducing the need for private companies like Ridwell to fill the gaps.

“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,” said Lynn Hoffman, co-president of Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit company that collects St. Paul residents’ recycling.

Ramsey County and Twin Cities electronics recycler Repowered opened an electronics recycling collection site in St. Paul in August, and after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, also resumed monthly “Fix-It Clinics” on Nov. 19. These clinics offer free repairs of electronic appliances, household items and clothing, hoping to prevent disposal of these items in the first place.