Mapping a zero-waste future
Hennepin County has drafted a Zero Waste Plan (PDF) that will advance greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies outlined in the Climate Action Plan.
Our zero-waste vision is a system where all materials are designed to become resources for others to use. To the county, zero waste means preventing 90% or more of all discarded materials from being landfilled or incinerated.
Achieving zero waste will require significant changes in the choices we all make in our day-to-day lives and transformative changes in the policies, programs and resources that make up the solid waste system.
The climate impact of the stuff we buy and use
We consume a lot of stuff, but the climate impacts of consumption are mostly invisible to the consumer. Creating new products requires energy — to harvest raw material, process it, manufacture it, transport it, and sometimes, to use it. When looking greenhouse gas emissions from the stuff we buy and use, 45% of global emissions are associated with producing and transporting goods.
To better understand the climate impact of the stuff we buy and use, Hennepin County is conducting a consumption-based emissions inventory, which estimates the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the purchase of goods and services by Hennepin County consumers. This emissions inventory found that the biggest opportunities to reduce emissions will come from focusing on the following goods and services: vehicles, building materials, appliances and electronics, food, and clothing and textiles.
Hennepin County’s Climate Action Plan includes strategies to prevent food waste and compost organic materials, reuse and recycle building materials, shift consumer behaviors to minimize climate impacts of consumer choices, and make policy changes that hold producers responsible for goods accountable and advance zero-waste initiatives.
What we heard the community wants in a zero-waste future
Hennepin County’s Zero Waste Plan is being guided by a broad community engagement process with a strong focus on equity and disparity reduction.
During the first phase of community engagement in spring 2022, the county sought to understand the community’s experiences and concerns with the solid waste management system and learn their priorities and ideas for solutions. To gather that feedback, the county worked with a cohort of community groups to hold conversations with residents who have traditionally been left out of the solid waste planning process, gathered responses through a variety of online engagement tools, and met with industry stakeholders.
The following key findings emerged from all three feedback approaches:
- Offer more recycling options and create better, more equitable access to services: Recycling and organics recycling services need to be easier and more widely available. A special focus needs to be put on improving recycling service in multifamily settings.
- Put the responsibility on businesses and producers of materials: Take the responsibility off individuals and require the producers of materials and businesses to create a system that gives residents more options to reduce and recycle, especially when it comes to plastics.
- Increase education and outreach: People need more clear and consistent information on what is recyclable, what services are available, why recycling is important, and the impact of the materials we throw away. Messages and messengers should be tailored to resonate with specific audiences.
- Change the cost structure, offer incentives, and invest in community-based solutions: Adjust the cost structure to emphasize recycling over trash and offer incentives that reward good behavior. Pay people to improve recycling and conduct education in their communities and provide funding for neighborhood-based solutions.
- Invest in zero waste initiatives and act urgently: Taking urgent action to move toward zero waste is broadly supported, but the challenges need to be acknowledged and a significant investment will be required.
Read more about what we heard from the community during the first phase of community engagement.
Get involved in guiding Hennepin County to a zero-waste future
The proposed actions were presented to the county board in January 2023.
Final comments on the draft plan are being accepted through March 20, 2023. Find out how to give feedback on beheardhennepin.org.