Hennepin County to begin second zero-waste challenge

Zero-waste challenge participant Ali DeCamillis and her kids use green cleaners made at a workshop offered by Hennepin County. Photo courtesy Hennepin County
Zero-waste challenge participant Ali DeCamillis and her kids use green cleaners made at a workshop offered by Hennepin County. Photo courtesy Hennepin County

About 50 households in Hennepin County will begin a challenge this month to reduce waste and create new habits around it.

The households will develop waste-reduction plans and commit to making lifestyle changes as part of their participation in the county’s second zero-waste challenge, which starts Sept. 11. Changes could range from starting organics recycling to developing new shopping habits.

The eight-month challenge comes as Hennepin County continues working toward the state-mandated goal of recycling 75 percent of waste by 2030. The county recycled about 51 percent of all waste in 2016.

The challenge is an effort to explore the barriers that households face in diverting and reducing waste, county environmentalist Carolyn Collopy said in a video. The county hopes to use those lessons to develop future waste-reduction programs, she said.

Challenge participants will receive coaching from county staff and will be required to attend waste-reduction workshops. They will also be required to track the waste their households generate for four weeks at the beginning and end of challenge.

About 35 households participated in the first zero-waste challenge, which ended in August. Those households decreased their waste by about 20 percent and recycled or composted 62 percent of their waste, according to the county. About half of the households started composting.

Collopy said the county had each household in that challenge start by implementing three to five strategies for waste reduction. She said people found the workshops and their interactions with staff helpful in reducing waste.

Participant Monica Strelnieks said she wasn’t doing a lot when it came to diverting and reducing waste before the challenge. Now she’s made changes that include making her own laundry soap and using a more environmentally friendly cat litter.

Strelnieks, an Uptown resident, said the most notable thing she learned from the challenge was how much recyclable material doesn’t actually get recycled.

She suggested that consumers be more aware when shopping and make conscious decisions about buying items with less packaging.

Participant William Harrison started organics recycling at his East Harriet apartment during the challenge. He said he liked the workshops the county offered, noting one specific to children and waste reduction.

Collopy wrote in an email that it’s a bit too soon to say how the county will use the information it gleans from the challenges. She wrote that she expects the larger trends to inform the county’s messaging as it works with more households.

She added that the waste-diversion aspect of the challenge has been easier for people than the waste-reduction aspect.

“That goes counter to our societal norms that have been pushing consumption and convenience/disposable goods as a means to making our lives easier,” she wrote.

Visit hennepin.us/zerowastechallenge to learn more about the program.

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