Case studies help identify gaps and opportunities for Hennepin County

To help the county understand options and opportunities for creating a zero-waste system, Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), the solid waste consultant for the Zero Waste Plan, researched how other communities have made significant progress toward zero waste. The six communities they studied were chosen based on their programs, policies, demographics, and geographies – some because they are similar to Hennepin County and others because they have programs and policies the county could learn from.

RRS also conducted a gaps analysis of Hennepin County’s programs and services to highlight successes and identify areas for improvement.

The following is a summary of the case studies and themes as well as key findings from the gaps analysis.

For more detailed information, see the community scan case study summary (PDF), community scan case study report (PDF), and gaps and opportunities analysis (PDF).

Communities included in the research

RRS’ research included six communities that mostly have higher rates of recycling and organics recycling than Hennepin County. The communities included in the research were:

Alameda County, California

A solid waste management authority covering 14 cities and two sanitary districts with of goal of making landfills obsolete by 2045. They have a large budget for education and engagement and are focused on reuse and end-market development.

King County, Washington

The county coordinates with more than 30 cities and has a goal of zero waste by 2030. They are focused on increasing equity by supporting a representative community panel that ensures equitable implementation of policies and programs and supporting the development of local, neighborhood-level end markets (where recycling collected is made into new materials).

Rotterdam, Netherlands

The city is on track with or ahead of every goal set by the European Union for recycling and organics management and has a goal of establishing a circular economy where materials are reused locally rather than discarded by 2050. They support the development of small waste reduction and reuse businesses and have a comprehensive neighborhood drop-off program for recyclables.

San Jose, California

The city has diversion requirements and incentives in hauler contracts in which they are paid more for collecting more recycling. They have a unique wet/dry collection in which recycling is collected in one cart and organics and trash are collected in another and separated later.

Toronto, Canada

The largest metropolitan area in Canada has a high proportion of multifamily residents (50%) and has variable rates for multifamily to incentivize recycling. They are also focused on reuse by supporting repair hubs, sharing resources, and other services at the neighborhood level.

Washington, DC

They are focused on serving their high proportion of multifamily residents (two-third of residents) with more than 50 community composting sites. They are focused on making the Anacostia River swimmable with aggressive litter-reduction policies including a single-use bag fee and food service ware requirements

Themes from the case study research

The following themes emerged from the research into the six communities that Hennepin County can learn from when planning their zero waste efforts.

  • Producer responsibility is a focus to reduce waste and make materials produced easier to recycle.
  • Supporting a regional, circular economy with local end markets, small businesses focused on reuse and reduction, and neighborhood-based solutions helps to reduce waste and advance equity.
  • Mandates, requirements, and bans are common to increase participation and diversion.
  • Equity is a focus to ensure programs do not perpetuate existing disparities by increasing access and equitable opportunities.
  • There are a variety of solutions to address challenges with diversion and participation in multifamily settings, but no single solution has proven most effective.
  • Construction and demolition waste programs and requirements are a part of many jurisdiction’s services.
  • Control over the system and how materials are collected is advantageous.
  • Emphasis on food waste reduction and recovery of organic materials is an important part of zero waste efforts.
  • Mixed waste processing is being used or considered for organics and non-recyclables.
  • Innovations in engagement and outreach are being pursued to increase participation and ensure equity.

Gaps and opportunities for Hennepin County

RRS compared best practices from communities working toward zero waste to the county’s current system to identify both areas of success and opportunities for improvement in six key areas.


Strengths: Services for trash, recycling, and organics are offered throughout the county for residents and businesses, with more programs for organics becoming available. There are drop-off options for materials and opportunities to recycle additional materials, such as construction and demolition waste. There is a requirement for property owners to provide sufficient recycling service at multifamily properties.

Gaps and opportunities: There is a lack of awareness and consistent enforcement of multifamily and commercial recycling requirements. Organics recycling and options for harder to recycle items are not commonly available at multifamily properties. There is a lack of awareness of and barriers to accessing construction and demolition waste recycling services. More drop-off options with more equitable access could be provided. The current open market system for waste hauling results in inequities and inefficiencies. Schools lack resources, funding, and technical knowledge in regard to recycling and organics recycling services.


Strengths: The county has a lot of processing facilities located close by, including for disposal, recycling sorting, composting, and construction and demolition waste. There are also drop-off sites for extra recyclables and hazardous waste.

Gaps and opportunities: Stakeholders said more investment is needed in reuse businesses and facilities. More organics processing capacity is needed as programs expand. There are issues around equity and health burdens related to the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC), the county’s waste-to-energy facility. Landfill capacity in the Twin Cities area may be an issue in the future.

End markets

Strengths: There are good local and regional markets for some materials and adequate transportation to get materials to those end markets.

Gaps and opportunities: Developing end markets in Hennepin County could benefit the local economy through potential public-private partnerships. More markets are needed for organics, some building materials, plastics, and textiles. There is an opportunity to equitably invest in small reuse businesses.

Education and outreach

Strengths: The county provides valuable information and resources, and cities use consistent guidelines, messaging, and resources. Free technical assistance and resources are offered to schools, businesses, and multifamily properties. There are many communication channels used to get messages out and interactive programs to motivate behavior change. The county partners with community organizations to engage their communities in taking action through Green Partners grants.

Gaps and opportunities: Awareness of the county’s resources and programs could be increased through improved marketing, especially for multifamily residents and property managers. Community leaders and partners could be leveraged to better engage audiences and disseminate local and culturally relevant information..


Strengths: The county has a strong policy foundation when it comes to solid waste fees, hauler licensing, and requirements for cities, certain businesses, and multifamily. There are also supportive state statutes, including that certain materials are banned from landfills and grants to support end market development. The count’s Climate Action Plan includes strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with materials and waste.

Gaps and opportunities: There are few state policies focused on circularity or producer responsibility. There are no mandates on construction and demolition waste disposal and the county has no authority when it comes to building codes or regulating this waste. Haulers are not required to report amount of waste collected or performance through county ordinance. The current rate structures to not provide incentives for recycling or organics recycling and do not necessarily disincentive trash.


Strengths: The county maintains strong collaborative relationships with cities and works closely with community partners.

Gaps and opportunities: Partnerships could be established with manufacturers, brands, and large corporations in the county. Grants offered by the county could be expanded to increase equity, develop local markets, support neighborhood solutions, and create jobs.

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