Skip to main content

Address climate change by going plastic free

Man holding plastic water bottle litter

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.

Pile of plastic trash

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

Shampoo and soap in plastic free containers in shower

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 1,100 people participated in Hennepin County’s Plastic-Free Challenge in February 2022 and their efforts showed big results!

Three people holding plastic litter cleanup bag

Together, participants:

  • Completed 8,600 actions to reduce their reliance on plastics
  • Prevented over 4,400 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions
  • Picked up over 1,300 pieces of litter
  • Avoided over 5,000 plastic items and 2,200 pounds of packaging by choosing alternatives
  • Spent over 7,200 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:

Girl putting melon in reusable bag
  • 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.

Young boy drinking from reusable water bottle
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

Parents with two young boys chopping vegetables in the kitchen

Create meals, not waste: Planning ahead to reduce food waste

Reducing food waste is a surprisingly powerful climate solution. Making changes in your kitchen and when you go shopping can significantly reduce the amount of food that goes to waste and save you money.

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.