Address climate change by going plastic free
Most plastics are made from oil and gas — fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. About 4% to 8% of the world's oil production is for plastics, and most plastics are thrown away after a single use. By reducing your plastic use, you can also reduce your carbon footprint.
The problem with plastics
Plastics are problematic for many reasons. Worldwide, plastic production has skyrocketed since the 1970s, and a lot of the growth has come in the form of packaging and single-use plastics.
Plastics contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
In addition to being a cause of pollution in the environment, plastic also contributes to climate change at every step of its lifecycle.
When plastic is created
Almost all plastic is made from materials such as ethylene and propylene that are made from oil and gas. Greenhouse gases are released during extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels. During the refining process, 4% of the world’s annual oil production is burned to produce plastic.
When it’s discarded
Sunlight and heat cause plastic to release powerful greenhouse gases, such as methane and ethylene.
When it degrades
Perhaps even more sinister, microplastic particles from degraded plastic can be unwittingly ingested by marine life such as plankton. This reduces the ability of plankton to photosynthesize and degrades their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus creating a feedback loop that increases the rate of climate change and perpetuates the cycle.
Plastics contribute to waste
Since packaging and single-use plastics are used for a short period of time and then discarded, they contribute significantly to the increasing amounts of plastic waste and litter. Although recycling can be a good option for managing certain plastic items, only a small percentage of plastic products are recycled, and many types of plastic are hard to recycle.
Plastics harm the environment
Unlike items made from natural materials like plants that can be composted and returned to the soil, plastics don’t go away. Instead, they break down into smaller pieces of plastic. These microplastic pieces are now found almost everywhere, including in our air, water, soil, and bodies. Plastics in the environment pollute our water, harm wildlife, and have largely unknown health impacts for us.
County takes action to reduce plastic waste
Reducing our reliance on plastics, especially single-use plastics, will reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change.
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.
The county is pursuing this initiative because it supports the transition to zero waste faster and helps to achieve the goals outlined in the county’s solid waste management master plan. Reducing plastic waste will also contribute to the county meeting its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
Celebrating the impact of Plastic-Free Challenge participants
Our actions to reduce our own plastic use can have a significant collective impact! Nearly 1,550 people participated in Hennepin County’s Plastic-Free Challenge in February 2023 and their efforts showed big results!
- Completed 13,940 actions to reduce their reliance on plastics
- Prevented over 5,300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions
- Ate over 2,400 zero-waste meals
- Picked up over 1,000 pieces of litter
- Avoided over 10,400 plastic items and 500 pounds of packaging by choosing alternatives
- Spent over 6,400 minutes learning how to live a low-waste lifestyle
Reducing plastic in your life is a difficult and ongoing process. It is important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small! Each win can help motivate you to make the next, and together our impacts add up.
Easy tips to use less plastic and create less waste
There are many different actions you can take to move closer to a plastic-free lifestyle. Some actions that Plastic-Free Challenge participants took to have a big impact during the challenge include:
- Educating yourself by watching a documentary or estimating your plastic footprint
- Eliminating plastic items by making swaps. Some common swaps including getting rid of disposable cleaning wipes, dryer sheets, plastic baggies, and plastic wrap. Participants also made the switch to compostable floss, chose natural fiber clothing, and used reusable containers for snacks and for freezing food
- Making your own items to avoid plastic packaging, such as by canning or pickling, baking granola bars or bread, or preparing green cleaners
- Increasing recycling of plastic caps and bags and picking up litter
- Changing how you shop by shopping at used goods stores, using reusable bags, shopping the bulk bins, avoiding harmful plastics, and buying unpackaged produce
- Changing how you do things, such as cooking meals with zero plastic waste, planning a garden, and extending the life of electronics
Take action to reduce your reliance on plastics
We can make choices with our wallets and our lifestyles that create less demand for new plastic, even if we can’t avoid plastic every day.
- Be thoughtful about where and how often you shop to cut your plastic footprint. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to avoid plastic. There is always something you can do to use less.
- Download our guide to reducing, reusing and recycling household plastic on the county’s Choose to Reuse website to learn more about how reducing your plastic footprint can fit into your lifestyle.
- Visit the Plastic-Free Challenge website to learn about other ways to reduce your reliance on plastic.
- Check out our Zero Waste Challenge webpage for future opportunities to stay involved.