Environmental education

A wide variety of free environmental education resources, project support and funding is available to organizations working with residents and youth in Hennepin County.

Get the latest updates on environmental education programs and resources, learn about events and training opportunities, and read what others in the field are doing by subscribing to our Green Partners newsletter. See the most recent edition for an example of the content.

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Communication resources and print materials

Spread the word! Use the following resources to promote environmental programs, issues and news in your communication channels. Resources include newsletter articles, web stories, social media posts, images and handouts. Resources are available for current campaigns and for general environmental issues.

Educational materials

Factsheets, pamphlets and handouts covering a wide variety of environmental topics are available to community groups, municipalities and schools in Hennepin County at no charge See what's available and place an order.

Videos about our environmental programs are available on our YouTube channel.

Current campaign articles and images

Adopt a drain

Backyard composting

Deciding how to manage ash trees from the threat of emerald ash borer

Recycle Smart – know what goes in your recycling cart

Household hazardous waste collection events

Recycling and reducing waste articles and images

Recycling

Green events

Repair tips

Reduce, reuse and low-waste lifestyle

Articles that take a deep dive into waste prevention, reuse and low-waste lifestyle topics are available on the county's Choose to Reuse website.

Tips to fight food waste

Disposing of and reducing hazardous waste articles and images

Identifying, reducing and disposing of hazardous waste

Green Disposal Guide

Medicine disposal

Disposal options for needles and sharps

Organics recycling, composting and disposing of yard waste articles and images

Organics recycling

Yard waste

Protecting land and water articles and images

Actions to protect water quality

Emerald ash borer and options for managing ash trees

Rain gardens

Clean Water Minnesota stories

Find stories of what others are doing to protect water and actions everyone can take on Clean Water Minnesota.

Curriculum ideas and activity guides

Environmental education curriculum

Our list of environmental education curriculum (PDF) is intended to help educators incorporate lessons and activities on environmental topics.

The guide includes both local and national resources on a variety of environmental topics, including climate change, composting, recycling, reducing waste, protecting land and water, and understanding ecosystems. Many of the resources are available for free, and some include low-cost training opportunities.

Hennepin County environmental education activity guides

The environmental education activity guides are intended to be used to engage audiences of all ages in learning about and taking action to protect the environment.

Activities are included on a variety of environmental topics. There are also a few general activities that could be applied to any environmental topic.

Each section includes background information to help educators and participants learn about the environmental issue. Each activity includes an introduction, recommended age group, estimated time requirement, outcomes and concepts to reinforce, supplies, preparation steps, procedure, discussion questions, additional activity ideas, and resources.

The activities have also been linked to state education standards. See the education standards matrix (PDF).

Download activities by section below, or download the entire activity guide package here (PDF).

Introduction and general activities

Learn how to use activity guides, tips for motivating behavior change and teaching outside, along with general environmental activities to do with your group.

Introduction and general activities (PDF)

Air, energy and climate change

Climate change is already noticeable in Minnesota. Animal and plant habitats are shifting, weather patterns are changing, and severe storms and droughts are becoming more common. If temperature readings and precipitation continue to increase within the next century, Minnesota might soon feel and look more like Missouri.

Background information and activities about air, energy and climate change (PDF)

Organics recycling

Organics recycling involves collecting food scraps, non-recyclable paper and other compostable products to be recycled into compost at a large-scale composting facility. This process creates a nutrient-rich material that can be used in gardens and landscaping projects. Organics recycling is the best opportunity to reduce our trash – about 25 percent what we throw away is organic materials like food scraps and compostable paper. In order to be successful with organics recycling, it’s important to understand why it’s important, how it works, what is accepted, and how to get started.

Background information and activities about organics recycling (PDF)

Protecting land and water

Minnesota is known for its abundance of water and natural resources. Hennepin County has a diversity of landscapes and habitats ranging from formal gardens and urban parks to prairies, forests lakes, streams and wetlands. Natural resources provide critical habitat for wildlife, protect water quality, offer recreational opportunities and serve as the foundation to the region’s environmental well-being, economic prosperity and collective quality of life. Protecting the health of our natural resources is important for air and water quality, recreation, wildlife and tourism.

Background information and activities about protecting land and water (PDF)

Recycling

When you total up all the paper, plastic, aluminum and glass, Hennepin County recycles 580,000 tons each year. All of that recycling makes a big difference. By choosing to recycle, we reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, create jobs, conserve natural resources and protect the environment. Plus, recycling is simple, convenient and something the entire family can help with.

Background information and activities about recycling (PDF)

Reducing waste

More than one million tons of garbage is generated in Hennepin County every year. From packaging and junk mail to excess paint and food scraps – it takes a lot of time and money to deal with all of that waste. Waste reduction is any method used by a consumer or producer of a product to reduce the amount of solid waste that will require recycling, composting, incineration or disposal. In other words, if something is never created or you don’t buy it, you don’t have to decide how to reuse it or dispose of it.

Background information and activities about reducing waste (PDF)

Reducing food waste

As much as 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. for human consumption goes uneaten, and worldwide, one-third of food is wasted. About 36 million tons of food waste are generated in the United States each year. Food waste has increased significantly in recent years. Food waste per capita in the U.S. increased 50 percent from 1974 to 2009 according to the National Institute of Health.

Background information and activities about reducing food waste (PDF)

Toxicity and hazardous waste

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only a fraction of registered chemicals have gone through complete testing for human health concerns. Some chemicals have immediate toxic effects. Others are toxic to our bodies only after repeated, long-term exposure. In addition, many products we use in our homes contain heavy metals or other hazardous materials that can pollute the environment if improperly disposed of.

Background information and activities about toxicity and hazardous waste (PDF)

Educational kits, supplies and event displays

Guidelines for reserving education kits

Education kits and activities that can be checked out for use in environmental education lessons or as displays at events.

Kits are available for reservation by groups within Hennepin County. The maximum checkout period is 10 days unless approved by special request. Kits must be picked up and returned to the Hennepin County Environment and Energy office in downtown Minneapolis. Please request kits a minimum of one week before they need to be picked up to allow staff time to prepare them for you.

Reserve a kit online.

Available kits

  • Brick of cans display
  • Every Drop water demonstration kit
  • Food waste prevention
  • Green cleaning
  • Green gifts
  • Green parties
  • Household hazardous waste
  • Organics recycling
  • Packaging waste reduction
  • Recycled bowling game
  • Recycled products
  • Recycling education kit (youth)
  • Recycling sorting
  • Trees and forestry
  • Water quality game

Activity supplies

Receive free activity supplies to engage people in environmental education activities. Available supplies include spray bottles to make homemade, green cleaners, and reusable bags. Order supplies supplies.

Kits and displays from partners

Additional displays are available for reservation through Metro Watershed Partners. Learn more and reserve online.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) offers display materials for use by local units of government, community groups, and educators. Learn more and reserve online.

Tours and presentations

Brooklyn Park drop-off facility

Hennepin County offers facility tours for groups from 2nd grade to adult at the Brooklyn Park Transfer Station (BPTS). Tours highlight the importance of reducing, reusing, recycling and preventing pollution. Youth tours have been linked with MN State Education Standards and a list is available upon request for teachers and administrators. Please refer to the BPTS transfer station tour request calendar and form to request a tour.

Hennepin Energy Recovery Center: A waste-to-energy facility

Hennepin County offers facility tours at the Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center (HERC) waste-to-energy facility. Please refer to the HERC tour safety guidelines and tour form to determine what may be available for your group. HERC is a waste-to-energy facility in action where Minneapolis waste is received and burned to generate steam for the downtown district energy system and energy sold to Xcel. This tour describes the waste hierarchy, engineering alternatives to landfills and preventing pollution.

Presentations

Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services staff is available to attend events in the county and give presentations. Depending on the type of event, speakers can be experts on: waste reduction and recycling, water conservation, natural resource protection, toxicity reduction, and other topics.

Email environment@hennepin.us to schedule a presentation or environmental expert for your event.

Environmental education programs, field trips and bus funding

Environmental education field trips and bus funding

Hennepin County supports schools and organizations in taking their groups on environmental education field trips and tours by providing transportation through a county-provided bus funding. To be eligible for the field trip, groups must have at least 25 participants age 7 and above, and the majority of participants must be Hennepin County residents. Eligible groups and organizations include schools, nonprofit organizations, community groups, youth groups, congregations, watershed districts, environmental clubs, and cities, located within Hennepin County.

Select a field trip location and activity that aligns well with the age group and interest of your audience and your educational goals. To more easily get approved for funding, select a field trip site and activity from our pre-approved list (PDF). You can go to field trip sites not listed in this document, but you will have to provide more details about the field trip location and activities and how they align with the county’s goals for this program.

Apply for field trip transportation.

Environmental education programs

River Watch

River Watch is a hands-on environmental education program for youth in Hennepin County. School classes or youth groups assess the health of local streams by identifying and quantifying the stream's biological community.

Youth collect macroinvertebrates (small aquatic organisms) from the stream and then identify them in a lab setting. Conclusions about the stream's water quality can be drawn based on the number and variety of organisms in the stream. All activities are conducted in a group setting with assistance from a Hennepin County River Watch educator.

Learn more and get involved.

Envirothon

The Envirothon is a problem-solving natural resources competition for high school and junior high school students that tests their knowledge of aquatics, forestry, soils and wildlife. A metro area competition is held each spring.

During the event, teams of five students complete hands-on activities and give presentations on current environmental issues. The top three teams from the metro competition advance to the state Envirothon. Learn more about the Metro Envirothon.

Hennepin County provides funding to cover the registration fees and transportation costs for Envirothon teams. To request funding for entry fees or buses, contact Stacey Lijewski at stacey.lijewski@hennepin.us or call 612-348-9938.

Children's Water Festival

The annual Metro Area Children's Water Festival educates fourth-grade students about water resources and ways they can help ensure a future where both the quantity and quality of water resources are protected and managed wisely. The event brings 1,500 students from throughout the metro area to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds for a one-day field trip at the end of September. Learn more about the water festival.

Grants and project planning support

Environmental education grants 

Hennepin County provides grants, resources and training to organizations to engage their audiences in learning about and taking action to project the environment through the Green Partners Environmental Education Program.

Field trip transportation funding

Hennepin County supports schools and organizations in taking their groups on environmental education field trips and tours by providing transportation through a county-provided bus funding. To be eligible for the field trip, groups must have at least 25 participants age 7 and above.

Field trips must be in Hennepin County unless you receive special permission from the program manager. Field trips must address one of the following environmental issues: reducing waste, recycling, reducing and safely disposing of hazardous waste, reducing climate change and air quality pollution, protecting land and water, understanding ecosystems.

For ideas, see our list of recommended field trip locations (PDF).

Apply for field trip transportation.

Training, volunteer and citizen science opportunities

Hennepin County offers a variety of training, networking and volunteer opportunities for educators to learn more about environmental issues and get experience working in the field.

Project Learning Tree teacher training

Saturday, November 2, 2019, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Eastman Nature Center in Elm Creek Park Reserve.

Learn fun, practical, hands-on lessons that use local trees, forests, and the natural world to teach K-8 students skills in science, math, language arts, and social studies. Teachers who attend this workshop will get the Project Learning Tree K-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide, which contains 96 engaging lessons. Lessons can be done in your classroom, in your schoolyard, or in your school forest in all seasons.

The training will be led by Hennepin County Forester, Jen Kullgren.

Learn more and register by Friday, October 18.

Environmental education networking meetings

Networking meetings provide opportunities for to learn about environmental topics, share resources and project ideas, and network with fellow environmental educators. Networking meetings are held quarterly and are open to the public. Learn more about upcoming meetings.

Wetland Health Evaluation Program

The Wetland Health Evaluation Program (WHEP) is an environmental monitoring program focused on assessing the condition and health of wetlands.

Teams of adult citizen scientist volunteers assess local wetlands by identifying and quantifying the biological communities of each site. Volunteers collect aquatic macroinvertebrates, such as insects, leeches, small crustaceans, and snails. Teams also inventory the wetland vegetation.

Monitoring macroinvertebrates and vegetation helps asses water quality because these communities are influenced by physical and chemical properties of wetlands. Some invertebrates and plants are more tolerant of pollution than others, and only certain species will flourish in healthy wetlands.

Learn more about getting involved.

Tree stewards

The tree steward program offers training classes and volunteer opportunities for adult residents interested in tree care.

Tree steward classes cover the basics of tree biology, tree planting, watering, pruning, and tree health through a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on, outdoor field experience. Classes are offered in partnership with the University of Minnesota and host cities.

After completing the class, volunteers have opportunities to help plant and care for trees with the county and partnering organizations.

Learn more about tree stewards.

Master Recycler/Composters

Join fellow waste reduction enthusiasts and become an advocate for the three Rs in your community as a Hennepin County Master Recycler/Composter.

Master Recycler/Composters are trained on waste prevention, recycling and composting through an extensive six week course that features industry experts and field trips to local waste processing and recycling facilities.

Once training is complete, participants commit to volunteer 30 hours. Volunteer activities include staffing booths at events and designing and implementing waste reduction and recycling projects.

Learn more about Master Recyclers/Composters.

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