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Mapping a zero-waste future

Graphic that says help us reach our goal of diverting 90% of waste from landfills and incineratorsHennepin County is developing a Zero Waste Plan 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.

Zero Waste Plan work groups recommend actions to accelerate the county's path to zero waste

Zero Waste Plan work groups comprised of community members and industry stakeholders recently wrapped up their work of refining and recommending actions for inclusion in the Zero Waste Plan. This wraps up phase two of the development of the Zero Waste Plan. The work groups elevated more than 60 actions for inclusion in the plan.

The work groups formed around seven themes: equity and access, policy, neighborhood solutions, advancing circularity, systems and infrastructure, green streams, and blue streams. More than 160 people registered to join a work group. Each work group had at least 20 members that included a balance of community members, staff from businesses, nonprofit organizations, and local government, and waste experts.

The solid waste consultant is now analyzing the elevated actions to determine their technical and economic feasibility and environmental and social benefits. Part of this analysis will include recommending additional actions if needed to address any remaining gaps to ensure a comprehensive zero-waste plan.

Learn more about the work group process and results.

The climate impact of the stuff we buy and use

Pie chart showing that 46% of a products life-cycle emissions come from production, 38% from use, 10% from wholesale and retail, 5% from pre-purchase  transportation, 1% from post-consumer disposal

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

Sticky wall with handwritten post-its with ideas for zero waste solutions

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

People at an indoor event at a Hennepin County table talking to staff

The proposed actions will be presented to the county board in November. 

Broad public engagement to gather feedback on the recommended actions will occur in January and February 2023. Information about ways to give feedback will be shared on beheardhennepin.org and through Zero Waste Plan email updates.

Other actions

Kitchen shelf with jars of pantry staples

Working to eliminate plastic waste

Hennepin County recently joined the U.S. Plastics Pact to build on county efforts to support residents and businesses who want to take action on plastic waste and pollution.

Woman holding boxes of rescued food by open car trunk

Food rescue diverts excess food to people in need

Wasting food has upstream climate impacts. It wastes energy used to grow, produce, transport and store food products. When food makes it to the landfill, it has a direct effect on climate change. As a leader in waste management, the county is focusing on reducing food waste. It’s one of the single most effective solutions to address climate change.

Mom handing young daughter a doll in bedroom surrounded by toys and paper bags for packing

How to live a lower waste lifestyle: insights from Zero Waste Challenge participants

Every year, Hennepin County offers a Zero Waste Challenge where participants get personalized help to develop customized waste-reduction plans and make low-waste lifestyle changes. And each year, the participating households achieve impressive results. So how do they do it? Discover actions that participants said had a significant impact on reducing waste.