Food rescue in Hennepin County
Hennepin County conducted research in 2022 to understand the food rescue system in the county. This research included interviews, focus groups, and surveys with organizations involved in the food rescue system and community members who have experienced food insecurity.
Goals were to identify gaps and opportunities to divert more food to people that would otherwise go to waste and increase the food rescue system’s responsiveness to community needs for both highly nutritious and culturally significant food.
- Intentionally aligned partnerships between donor organizations and food rescue organizations are fundamental to the success of food rescue efforts.
- Although intermediary organizations are key to the current food rescue system, food security organizations have complex and mixed experiences partnering with these organizations.
- Staffing and labor are a significant challenge in the food rescue ecosystem.
- Supply chain and transportation logistics continue to pose a significant challenge to ensuring the safety and quality of rescued food.
- The experiences of community members underscore the need for innovation across the food rescue ecosystem.
- Adequate finances and appropriate donations across the food rescue stream are key to the ability to participate in food rescue and meet community members’ needs.
- Creative adaptations made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 social uprising identified promising strategies to improve food rescue efforts.
Recommendations for Hennepin County
In the transition to an equitable, zero-waste future, Hennepin County is poised to have a meaningful and transformative impact on the food rescue system. Through engagement and analysis, 14 strategies were identified for the county to pursue to ensure this impact. These strategies fit into the following recommendations:
- Expand on-the-ground support for donor organizations to operationalize and improve food rescue efforts in their organizations.
- Establish internal and external collaborations focused on continuous improvement of food rescue and county supports.
- Leverage data to promote food rescue efforts and identify system-wide improvement opportunities.
- Work with food rescue and security partners to implement creative and innovative strategies to enhance food rescue efforts and community impacts.
- Embed disparity reduction and racial equity throughout the design and implementation of county strategies.
Read the food rescue in Hennepin County report (PDF).
Residential food waste reduction study
Hennepin County conducted a consumer behavior research study in 2021 to design and test optimal messaging strategies to help residents overcome barriers to preventing wasted food. The study utilized focus groups in three distinct cohorts that intentionally received differing levels of communication throughout the study. The purpose was to assess whether varying levels of consumer engagement had an impact on projected behavior change.
Key findings and recommendations
- Develop campaign content that appeals to specific demographic groups such as families, singles, older adults, young adults, and children.
- Create outreach messaging that is simple, quick to read, and emphasizes money savings as a key motivator.
- Emphasize that changing behavior requires addressing multiple behaviors in four specific phases: planning, purchase, preparation, and preservation.
- Cultivate key partnerships such as local grocery stores and provide message placement in locations that will reach consumers at each stage of the decision-making process (planning, food acquisition, consumption, and disposal).
Read the engaging residents to reduce food waste report (PDF).
Residential waste sort study
Hennepin County conducted a waste sort in 2016 to learn more about what residents are throwing away and what opportunities we are missing to recycle more.
The study involved sorting residential trash from Minneapolis into new categories to get better, more specific information about what could be recycled now but is not, and what opportunities need to be developed to increase recycling in the future.
- Recycling organic materials is the biggest opportunity to reduce our trash.
- Residents are doing a pretty good job of recycling, but there are still opportunities to improve. We could be recycling more paper and cardboard, and people are confused about plastics.
- There are opportunities to improve recycling of materials that are not accepted in curbside recycling programs, including clothing, plastic bags and film, electronics, mattresses, and scrap metal.
- Reducing the amount of waste generated is the first place is the most impactful waste management practice, and there is considerable potential to improve waste prevention.
Multifamily waste study
Hennepin County conducted a waste study in 2017 to assess how well apartment and condo buildings were recycling. The study looked at the recycling diversion rate, contamination levels in the recycling, and the composition of what was being discarded as trash.
- Apartment buildings have low recycling rates and high contamination rates
- There are significant opportunities to divert more materials from the trash
- Service levels are not adequate
Read the full multifamily waste study report (PDF).
Construction and demolition waste studies
Reuse and recycling practices at remodeling and renovation projects (2022 - 2023)
A construction and demolition waste study was conducted by Stantec on behalf of Hennepin County in 2022 and 2023. The study aimed to gain insight into reuse and recycling practices at remodeling and renovation projects via interviews with contractors, site visits, and waste management data collection. Remodeling projects for the study were selected using building permit lists provided by the cities of Minneapolis, Edina, and Shorewood.
Contractors were asked a series of questions focused on reuse and recycling practices, barriers to sustainable practices, and suggestions for systemic improvement that would encourage participation. Additionally, contractors were asked to provide waste weight and diversion data associated with the focus project.
- While many contractors were interested in waste reduction and diversion concepts, there is misinformation and confusion among contractors. Topics of confusion included where and how to give items to reuse organizations, where waste goes after it's put in the mixed-use dumpster, differences between waste vendors, and value, desirability, or viability of items that could be reused.
- Most contractors (63%) noted time and cost as largest barrier to building material reuse. This includes time hauling materials off-site and logistics to contact reuse outlets. Other commonly noted barriers included lack of interest from clients and lack of quality (real or perceived) compared to new building materials.
- Nearly half (46%) of projects in the study, which were evenly split between commercial and residential, included some form of reuse. Most of the projects (75%) with reuse included reuse on-site through preservation within the current space or removal, restoration, or reinstallation in the same project. One-quarter of projects with reuse sent building materials off-site to salvage organizations or stored them for future projects. Common materials reused included wood flooring, doors, bathroom fixtures, cabinets, and light fixtures.
Read the full reuse and recycling practices at remodeling and renovation projects report (PDF)
Capacity for diverting construction and demolition waste through recycling and reuse (2015)
Hennepin County commissioned a study in 2015 to assess the capacity for diverting construction and demolition waste through recycling and reuse of materials. These materials include wood, concrete, cardboard, metals, asphalt shingles, sheetrock, vinyl siding, textiles, carpet, brick and more.
The study found that more than 810,000 tons of construction and demolition materials were generated 2013, and 30 percent of those materials were recycled.
- The cost of construction and demolition landfill disposal needs to be higher to incentivize higher diversion rates.
- There is ample facility capacity in the metro area to collect and process more construction and demolition waste.
- Diversion of high value and/or readily reusable residential building materials, including cabinets, fixtures and old growth wood, is generally not optimized, and a significant amount of these materials are being landfilled.
- There is a lack of awareness about retail outlets for reused building materials. Physical space to store and sell these materials is one of several barriers to growth of this market.
- Deconstruction, a technique that carefully dismantles a building to salvage materials for reuse, can divert up to 90% of the waste material generated from building removal. The practice is used on larger commercial projects, but few contractors currently provide this service for residential properties.
See the construction and demolition diversion capacity study (PDF).