Share your ideas for a zero-waste future

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The Zero Waste Plan

The Hennepin County Zero Waste Plan (PDF) is now available.

Hennepin County is committed to achieving a zero-waste future where all materials are designed to become resources for others to use, the volume and toxicity of waste and materials is systematically eliminated, and all resources are conserved and recovered and not burned or buried.

The county has defined zero waste as preventing 90% or more of all discarded materials from being landfilled or incinerated. The actions in the Hennepin County Zero Waste Plan are designed to collectively move the county as close as possible to the goal of zero waste.

The Zero Waste Plan

The Hennepin County Zero Waste Plan (PDF) is now available.

Hennepin County is committed to achieving a zero-waste future where all materials are designed to become resources for others to use, the volume and toxicity of waste and materials is systematically eliminated, and all resources are conserved and recovered and not burned or buried.

The county has defined zero waste as preventing 90% or more of all discarded materials from being landfilled or incinerated. The actions in the Hennepin County Zero Waste Plan are designed to collectively move the county as close as possible to the goal of zero waste.

  • Zero Waste Plan finalized

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    Hennepin County has finalized its Zero Waste Plan (PDF), concluding the 1.5 year long process that resulted in 62 actions to advance a zero-waste future.

    The actions were developed with extensive public feedback from more than 1,800 participants. A huge thank you to all that gave their time and input to create and improve the plan.

    The county’s waste reduction and recycling staff are now shifting to implementation of the plan’s actions. The county is also preparing to develop the next solid waste management plan. The Zero Waste Plan will serve as the foundation of the county’s solid waste management plan, which will likely be considered for board approval in 2024.

    Next steps

    Shifting to implementation

    The county’s waste reduction and recycling staff are shifting to implementation.

    We recently launched the Apartment Recycling Champions program, expanded education and outreach, and hired a food waste prevention specialist to establish a food waste reduction target and a plan to eliminate food waste.

    We are planning for additional resources in the 2024 budget process. That request will support resources for new initiatives to address plastics and collection of hard-to-recycle materials, increase assistance to community groups, businesses, multifamily properties and schools, and increase enforcement of the county's food waste and recycling requirements.

    Preparing the 2024 solid waste management plan

    We are also preparing to develop the next solid waste management plan. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has released its draft Metropolitan Solid Waste Management Policy Plan. Comments are being accepted through August 31, 2023.

    Once the state policy plan is finalized, the county will have nine months to complete its solid waste management plan to meet the state’s policy objectives. The Zero Waste Plan will serve as the foundation of the county’s solid waste management plan, which will be considered for board approval in 2024.

  • Key findings from the public comment period and changes made to the plan

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    Summary of the key findings from the final comment period

    The county gathered public comments on the draft Zero Waste Plan from February 21 to March 20, 2023, through three methods: an online community feedback session, an online survey, and written comments. Key findings:

    • Survey respondents widely support the county’s zero-waste goal.
    • The majority of the feedback focused on closing the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC). Without a defined shutdown date for HERC, many respondents said they do not support the plan.
    • Actions in the plan with strong support included: education, reuse and repair, extended producer responsibility, single-use plastics ban and zero-waste packaging requirements, zero-waste infrastructure, such as an anaerobic digestion facility, and city-level actions, such as organized collection, and new drop-off collection options.
    • Actions that received mixed reactions: Mandates and mandated participation, financial incentives, recovering recyclable materials from the trash, and overall costs to implement the Zero Waste Plan.

    Read more in the key findings of public comments on the draft Zero Waste Plan report (PDF) and the verbatim comments (PDF).

    Changes to the Zero Waste Plan

    The following changes were made to actions based on public feedback.

    Provide more education

    B.7 Expand reach of county waste education programming: Edits were made to provide additional context and specifics on campaign topics (food waste prevention and residential organics recycling) and tactics, including behavior change practices and youth education.

    B.10 Added a new action: launch a broad consumer campaign on food waste prevention.

    Provide more clarity on transition to organized collection

    C.1 Support the transition to organized collection across the county: Edited the action to say the county will work with cities and haulers to define roles and responsibilities and to incorporate a reference to pay-as-you-throw incentives and expanding incentives to include reuse and hard-to-recycle items.

    Expand advocacy for state laws that advance zero waste and materials circularity

    C.18 Added a new action: Support changes to product stewardship for e-waste to cover collection and program costs and expand access to electronics recycling.

    C.19 Added a new action: Reduce barriers for businesses to use refillable containers

    C.20 Added a new action: Revise building codes and zoning ordinances that inhibit recycling

    Put greater priority on reuse and repair

    D.7 Support innovation on zero waste: This action was focused on developing innovation hubs, which bring together local entrepreneurs to incubate new ideas and activities that can lead to a more circular economy. This action was edited to:

    • Acknowledge and include support for existing reuse businesses and districts, such as the reuse retailers along Minnehaha Avenue in south Minneapolis and salvage businesses in northeast Minneapolis.
    • Clarify the intent to address gaps in access to reuse infrastructure.
    • Include exploration of options to co-locate reuse, recycling, manufacturing, and retail businesses in a central facility or area, sometimes called a Resource Recovery Park.

    Acknowledging HERC

    There continues to be productive tensions around HERC and its role in the county's waste management system, and the county remains committed to continued conversations about HERC and its future. The plan continues to include the following two actions that were developed through the community engagement process with the action planning work groups. Further detail about the continued inclusion of these action in the Zero Waste Plan is provided below.

    A.10 Establish milestones to phase out the use of the HERC as county approaches zero waste.

    This action remains as it was proposed because establishing milestones or considering a target closure date requires a comprehensive analysis of the implications, followed by a deliberative decision-making process by county commissioners.

    A.9 Evaluate HERC upgrades to reduce impacts on community in the short term

    This action remains as proposed to preserve the opportunity for staff to recommend and the county board to approve short-term environmental and safety upgrades or improvements through the capital improvement process while HERC is operational.

    Map to a zero-waste future

    With these additions, the map to a zero-waste future was updated to reflect the county’s approach to implementing the plan. When successfully resourced and implemented, the plan is expected to achieve an 83% diversion rate.

  • Comment on the draft Zero Waste Plan

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    Provide comments on the draft Zero Waste Plan by March 20

    The draft Zero Waste Plan (PDF) is now available for the public to review. Provide comments in the following ways:

    Take the survey

    The survey walks through the plan’s goal, aims, and key actions, gathers feedback on level of support for these items, and provides opportunities to offer specific feedback.

    Take the survey

    Attend an online community meeting

    Thursday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m.

    At the meeting, county staff and the consultant that helped develop the plan will briefly present the plan’s goal, aims and key actions proposed.

    Participants will then have the opportunity to provide feedback on their level of support on the aims and actions in the plan. Participants will also be able to ask questions of the presenters and make verbal or written comments.

    Watch the meeting recording (YouTube).

    Share ideas and get questions answered online

    Join the conversation and provide input at your convenience. You can post ideas or ask questions that will be answered by Zero Waste Team.

    Next steps

    We welcome your thoughts on the plan. Comments submitted by March 20 will be considered by the Zero Waste Plan team as the plan is finalized. In addition, a summary of the survey and verbatim comments will be shared with commissioners and back to the public when the final plan is shared with commissioners.

  • Our commitment to advancing a zero-waste future

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    The Zero Waste Plan project team provided a briefing on January 12, 2023, to the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners on the plan development process, key findings from community engagement and research, and recommended plan actions.

    The commissioners were presented key findings from the first phase of community engagement, which included conversations conducted by a cohort of 18 community groups, online feedback tools, and listening sessions with industry stakeholders. They also heard a summary of research that examined what other communities around the world are doing to achieve zero-waste goals along with a gaps analysis that identified the county’s current successes and opportunities for improvement.

    The team provided an overview of the proposed actions for the county’s Zero Waste Plan, which were developed by action planning work groups comprised of community members and industry stakeholders.

    View the Zero Waste Plan briefing presentation (PDF).

    Overall, commissioners were broadly supportive of and energized by the actions presented. They encouraged staff to continue to bring forward the highest impact suggestions and actions, even if they require investment and advocacy for policy changes at the state and city level.

    Commissioners were also impressed by and appreciative of the work done by community members and industry to create the county’s Zero Waste Plan actions.

    County administrators wrapped up the briefing by noting the county has historically led in investing significantly in the waste management system and recognizing how this plan and the board’s support signifies we are ready to take the next big step.

    Commissioners offered these initial priorities during the briefing discussion:

    • Prioritize climate action and the health of our residents by advancing strategies in the Climate Action Plan, especially for materials that have the greatest climate impacts such as food waste and building materials.
    • Make sure everyone sees themselves as part of the solution by understanding how engagement, challenges, and solutions differ for those living in different areas of the county.
    • Continue to navigate tensions among our aspirational goal, our residents’ desires, and the need to act urgently with the operational reality and the transformative changes needed.
    • Address long-standing disparities by increasing equity in access, especially in multifamily settings.
    • Expand opportunities for living-wage, green jobs.
    • Expand and optimize the county’s existing education and assistance programs.
    • Pursue development of an anaerobic digestion facility, with priority to use the energy in forms that are hardest to decarbonize to maximize climate benefits.
    • Maximize the use of the policy tools and authorities the county has now and pursue new policies and funding from the state.
    • Address single-use products and producer responsibility for packaging.
    • Use the county’s purchasing power to advance sustainable actions.
    • Maximize recovery through recycling, organics, and additional drop-off programs, then pursue options to get the last items out of the trash.
  • Draft Zero Waste Actions and report summarizing the process to develop the proposed actions

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    In November 2022, Hennepin County Zero Waste Plan staff shared a draft document detailing the proposed actions for the county’s Zero Waste Plan. The actions are organized around four aims:

    1. Create a materials management system that reduces racial disparities and advances equity
    2. Expand the reach of county waste education, grants, and programs
    3. Adopt policies that accelerate the transition to a zero-waste future
    4. Implement programs to advance circularity, reduce waste, and support reuse

    More details about the proposed aims and the supporting actions are described below and in this supporting memo (PDF). Staff also published a Zero Waste Plan development report (PDF) summarizing the process to develop the proposed actions, including the public engagement processes so far and how the county’s Racial Equity Impact Tool is being used to guide the Zero Waste Plan process.

    The Zero Waste Plan actions memo and the process summary report were developed to seek the county board’s feedback at a briefing on the priorities to advance a zero waste future and if there is anything else to address before the full draft plan is developed and made available for final public comment.

    This board briefing was scheduled for November 2022, but was postponed due to scheduling conflicts. This website will be updated as soon as a new date is identified and the tasks and timeline for Phase 3: Review of the plan are updated.

    Mapping a zero-waste future: aims and actions

    Aim 1: Create a materials management system that reduces racial disparities and advances equity

    Inequity in the waste system unfairly shifts some of the impacts of waste management to overburdened communities, creates disproportionate access to services and opportunities, and results in pollution unfairly borne by communities and neighborhoods experiencing disparities. This includes the impacts that hauling and waste facilities such as the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) and landfills have on their adjacent communities.

    To create an equitable zero-waste system, shared responsibility is needed. Communities, businesses, government, and the waste industry must contribute equitably to the effort. If only a portion of the county has access to programs that achieve zero waste or the negative impacts of waste processing are borne by a sector of the community, zero waste will not be achievable, nor will the system be equitable.

    The actions proposed under Aim 1 address concerns and solutions that emerged during engagement with community members often left out of the solid waste decision-making process. Proposed actions include expanding recycling and organics collection and drop-off options, addressing litter, improving recycling and organics recycling access at multifamily properties, increasing living-wage green jobs, establishing a waste equity panel, funding community solutions, providing financial incentives for participation, and establishing milestones to phase-out HERC.

    Aim 2: Expand the reach of county education, grants, and programs

    The county has many effective programs to help residents, businesses, and institutions reduce and divert waste, but awareness of these programs is lacking. Examples of existing programs include grants for multifamily properties, businesses, building deconstruction, and community organizations; Ordinance 13 recycling requirements for multifamily properties and businesses and organics diversion requirements for large food waste generators; and residential educational programing such as the Zero Waste, Stop Food Waste, and Plastic-Free challenges, Fix-It Clinics, and Choose to Reuse.

    The actions proposed under Aim 2 build upon existing programming to collectively increase their impacts, expand their reach, and add new targets. Proposed actions include improved marketing of existing programs and resources, expanding grant and technical assistance to businesses, multifamily properties, schools, and building contractors, improving compliance with Ordinance 13 recycling and organics recycling requirements, expanding education and outreach, and ensuring adequate capacity to process organics.

    Aim 3: Adopt policies that accelerate the transition to a zero-waste future

    To reach zero waste, policy changes are needed to ensure that responsible recovery of materials is standard practice throughout the community. Well-designed policy at both the local and state level is a key component of successful zero-waste systems. The community scan conducted during the Zero Waste Plan development process found that policies such as disposal bans, extended producer responsibility, mandatory programs, and organized collection were key system components in communities with high recycling rates.

    The actions proposed under Aim 3 will require action at the city, county, and state level to move the county to an equitable zero-waste system. Proposed actions include adopting extended producer responsibility for product packaging, right to repair and single-use product ban policies, developing a food waste reduction target and plan, transitioning to organized collection, and implementing a county procurement policy that aligns with a circular economy.

    Aim 4: Implement programs to advance circularity, reduce waste, and support reuse

    The county must look beyond end of life and recycling and shift more of its focus to upstream impacts, reuse, waste minimization, and the built environment. By supporting material end markets, the county can help create a resilient circular economy at the regional level. In such a system, demand for reused or recycled commodities can drive supply and create favorable economic conditions for increased recovery.

    The actions proposed under Aim 4 look to innovative solutions to change the way we view and manage materials. Proposed actions include expanding reuse and repair options, increasing deconstruction and building material reuse, establishing a county innovation hub, strengthening end markets, and expanding financial incentives for the reuse industry.

    Learn more

    Review the actions that support these four main aims in the draft actions summary (PDF).

  • Action planning work group results

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    The Zero Waste Planning Team recently wrapped up the second phase of the Zero Waste Plan development. In phase 2, action planning work groups comprised of community members and industry stakeholders refined and recommended more than 60 actions for inclusion in the plan.

    Action planning work groups formed around seven themes: equity and access, policy, neighborhood solutions, advancing circularity, systems and infrastructure, green streams, and blue streams. More than 160 people registered to join a work group. Each work group had at least 20 members that included a balance of community members, staff from businesses, nonprofit organizations, and local government, and waste experts.

    Action development process

    The work group members met first to review findings from the phase 1 research and engagement, including what we heard from the community and industry stakeholders, what we learned from case studies of national and international leaders, and what we found when analyzing gaps in the county’s waste management system.

    The members then met in their theme work group and reviewed an initial list of actions. Between meetings and using an online meeting board, members were asked to pose clarifying questions, suggest edits and propose new actions.

    In the next meeting of the work groups, members discussed the edits and additions and staff answered questions posed. Following this meeting, members completed a survey to indicate their level of support for the expanded actions in their theme work group. More than 60 actions were elevated for a final vote by all participants, regardless of which work group they were in. At the last work group meeting, work group members reviewed the survey results and provided final comments.

    The solid waste consultant is now analyzing the elevated actions to determine their technical and economic feasibility and environmental and social benefits. Part of this analysis will include recommending additional actions if needed to address any remaining gaps to ensure a comprehensive zero-waste plan.

    Learn more:

    Review the memo (PDF) with an elevated list of actions and summary of the final survey results

    Correction: An earlier version of this article included a memo that incorrectly ranked the level of support for actions by work group members. This memo was updated in November 2022 to correct errors made in 5 actions noted in the document. The earlier version of the article also included a link to a presentation incorrectly labeled as the final meeting presentation (PDF). It has been removed to reduce the possibility of confusion over the ranking of the actions by work group members.

  • What we heard from the community during the first phase of community engagement

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    Hennepin County’s Zero Waste Plan is being guided by a broad community engagement process with a strong focus on equity and disparity reduction.

    During the first phase of community engagement, the county sought to understand the community’s experiences and concerns with the solid waste management system and learn their priorities and ideas for solutions. To gather that feedback, the county worked with a cohort of community groups from February through April 2022 to hold conversations with residents who have traditionally been left out of the solid waste planning process, gathered responses through a variety of online engagement tools, and met with industry stakeholders.

    Key findings

    The following are key findings from all three feedback approaches:

    • Offer more recycling options and create better, more equitable access to services: Recycling and organics recycling services need to be easier and more widely available. A special focus needs to be put on improving recycling service in multifamily settings.
    • Put the responsibility on businesses and producers of materials: Take the responsibility off individuals and require the producers of materials and businesses to create a system that gives residents more options to reduce and recycle, especially when it comes to plastics.
    • Increase education and outreach: People need more clear and consistent information on what is recyclable, what services are available, why recycling is important, and the impact of the materials we throw away. Messages and messengers should be tailored to resonate with specific audiences.
    • Change the cost structure, offer incentives, and invest in community-based solutions: Adjust the cost structure to emphasize recycling over trash and offer incentives that reward good behavior. Pay people to improve recycling and conduct education in their communities and provide funding for neighborhood-based solutions.
    • Invest in zero waste initiatives and act urgently: Taking urgent action to move toward zero waste is broadly supported, but the challenges need to be acknowledged and a significant investment will be required.

    The following includes a summary of who participated in and what we learned from each engagement approach.

    Conversations held by community groups

    A cohort of 18 community groups received funding to hold conversations with people of color, youth, and other residents whose voices have traditionally been underrepresented in solid waste planning. The community groups held a total of 31 conversations that gathered feedback from 500 participants.

    The cohort was coordinated by Antonia Apolinário-Wilcoxon, Ed.D. of Equity Strategies, LLC, a facilitator contracted by the county. Antonia assisted community groups in designing and facilitating their conversations and analyzed the findings to identify key themes.

    The following is a summary of what we heard the community wants. You can also see a summary of the community conversations (PDF) and the full report from the community conversations (PDF).

    Equitable access and participation

    The county should make it clear to the community how environmental justice is racial justice and ensure that overburdened communities don’t continue to get more burdens. The county needs to understand that lived experiences, including with waste and waste management, vary dramatically across racial, gender, and class lines.

    Planning efforts should examine how the Zero Waste Plan is received by different communities and cultures and consider how solutions will impact the most vulnerable communities, including those with disabilities and elders.

    Recycling and organics recycling services need to be easier and more widely available, especially in multifamily settings. Currently, multifamily residents don’t have access to as many services, and many residents aren’t aware of existing recycling services. There is often a struggle with overflowing dumpsters, recycling collected incorrectly (like in plastic bags), and trash and recycling getting mixed together.

    Consistent and relevant messaging, marketing, and educational programming

    There is currently a lot of confusion about recycling in communities. People aren’t sure what recycling services are available to them, what the bins are for, and what they can recycle.

    Communities need to hear messages that will resonate with them delivered by relevant messengers. For example, some people that said zero waste won’t resonate in their community because it doesn’t feel attainable for them.

    Messaging suggestions included:

    • Making what can be recycled clearer, easier, and more consistent.
    • Providing education on where our trash, recycling, and composting goes after being collected, including through facility tours.
    • Communicating the benefits of recycling.
    • Putting a human face to waste management by explaining how what you put in your bin impacts the people who have to manage it.
    • Debunking recycling myths.
    • Clearing up confusion about how to recycle items that are not accepted in recycling at home, such as medicines, electronics, batteries, and hazardous materials.

    Participants suggested using better and clearer signage on bins, creating videos showing people how to recycle, and using games and eye-catching graphics to appeal to youth.

    They also stressed that employees in the waste management system, including with cities and haulers, need to listen and respond to resident questions and concerns.

    Incentives to reward people for doing the right thing

    People said we need to incentivize recycling and reward good behavior rather than penalizing bad. They said it doesn’t make sense to have people pay for recycling, especially in low-income areas. They also suggested offering incentives for getting involved in keeping the community clean, such as emptying public bins or cleaning out storm drains. Suggested incentives include gift cards and discounts on bills.

    Funding for collaborative efforts across neighborhoods to build communities

    People involved in the conversations were motivated to learn and change behaviors and were interested in collaborating with others to create a cleaner and healthier community. They were interested in having funding and technical assistance available to implement neighborhood-based solutions.

    One solution suggested was having recycling captains in neighborhoods and buildings that are paid a stipend to meet and educate new tenants, conduct education, improve services, and manage issues. People were also interested in youth leadership opportunities and employment as well as neighborhood accountability groups.

    Provide more information about HERC and the impact on the surrounding community

    People want more information on the health impacts of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) and who is most impacted. Some people said they want HERC to shut down or move to eliminate the health impacts and free up space for development to ideally replace HERC with something that is community controlled and regenerative.

    Continued community engagement in the process to ensure transparency and accountability

    Overall, the community groups said this process was a valuable opportunity for neighborhoods and other community-based organizations to come together, receive quality education about waste management, share ideas, and make commitments to do more. They appreciated the diversity of the group and being able to learn together and identify solutions. They said the community conversations were helpful for participants to get their questions answered and meet neighbors.

    Many wanted to know what happens next. They wanted to know how the information was going to be used and if it would actually change things. They wanted to see a Zero Waste Plan developed that includes the community’s voices and creates something that works for everyone – that is cost-effective, time-effective, and accessible for everyone. They also wanted more time as many thought the process moved too fast.

    They said the county should be honest about the challenges of getting to zero waste. They felt a bigger investment is needed by state and local governments to make this initiative successful. They wanted to understand how tax dollars are used and why waste management is an extra fee.

    They said space is needed for residents to share insights and report back on their experiences as changes are being made. They suggested offering more training, conversations, and education in the community, such as at churches, apartment buildings, schools, and with neighborhood groups. They were also interested in more data, especially at the neighborhood level, on key metrics.

    Hold producers, businesses, and property managers responsible

    People said recycling services and zero waste solutions need to be made easier, and the responsibility needs to be taken off individuals. They said companies creating packaging in the first place should be held more accountable. Businesses and suppliers should be required to reduce packaging and use sustainable packaging, and they should face taxes or fines if they don’t. They also wanted property managers to be held responsible for providing effective services and to face taxes or fines if they don’t.

    Online and general community engagement

    A variety of tools were used on a new engagement platform,, to gather feedback from the general public. In total, 457 site visitors contributed in a variety of ways, including a survey with 257 responses, stories shared by 26 people, ideas contributed from 14 respondents, and polls with 242 responses. Feedback was also gathered though the Hennepin Environment Instagram and at the Minneapolis Community Connections Conference.

    The participants that offered feedback online reflected the audience we typically engage through our environmental communications. Most respondents said they are white, identify as female, and are between 25 and 64 years old. We heard from residents of 29 cities in Hennepin County, with 51% of respondents living in Minneapolis. The following is a summary of what we heard from these respondents. You can also see the online engagement findings report (PDF).

    More recycling options are needed

    The majority of respondents said recycling is very important and they recycle everything they can. Respondents said they are satisfied or somewhat satisfied with recycling services available, but they said more materials accepted in their recycling at home would be the most important thing to help them recycle more. Common items they want more options for include organics recycling, plastic bags and wrap, textiles, batteries, and scrap metal.

    They said more information, clarity on what is recyclable, more frequent recycling pick-up, and more convenient drop-off locations would also help. Additionally, they said the county should work with multifamily properties to improve recycling and organics recycling services and to invest in historically marginalized communities. 

    Plastics are the most confusing and frustrating

    Respondents said they find plastic packaging and to-go containers from restaurants to be the most confusing to recycle. When asked what they wish they could recycle, most people focused on recycling plastic items, including plastic film, black plastic, candy and snack wrappers, and Styrofoam.

    Respondents wanted more options for recycling and avoiding plastics, especially single-use plastics, and wanted to see businesses make it easier for consumers to avoid plastics.

    Hold businesses accountable for the materials they create, especially packaging

    When asked what actions the county should make a priority to reduce waste, many respondents said businesses should be held accountable for the materials they produce. They explained that there is only so much they can do as an individual, and the current system makes it impossible to avoid some types of waste. They especially focused on the need to reduce or eliminate packaging and single-use plastics.

    They suggested producer responsibility legislation, banning certain plastics and packaging, making sure products are sold in recyclable or compostable packaging, and making it easier for consumers to avoid single-used plastics by offering items in bulk or loose instead of packaged. Others wanted regulations to ensure businesses produce high-quality goods, eliminate planned obsolescence (in which where products are designed to become outdated and replaced quickly), and design products so they can be repaired.

    Increase education and outreach

    People said education is needed on a variety of topics, including what is accepted for recycling, how to recycle, how to reduce waste and buy less stuff, how to do organics recycling and composting, why recycling is important, and the environmental impacts of trash. They called for broad advertising campaigns, local outreach through community organizations and neighborhoods, and messaging that made recycling fun and cool.

    Change the cost structure and offer incentives

    People wanted to see the cost and incentive structure for waste management change to emphasize recycling over trash. They wanted to see the cost for trash go up and the cost for recycling and organics recycling be subsidized or offered for free. They also suggested offering incentives for recycling, organics recycling, composting, and reducing waste.

    Focus on better consumption and reuse over recycling

    Several people want the county to focus on better consumption and reuse over recycling. They said a cultural shift is needed to focus on buying less, investing in high quality goods, buying used goods, repairing items, donating or otherwise reusing instead of putting things in the trash.

    Industry stakeholder meetings

    Feedback was gathered from a wide variety of industry stakeholders through a series of 10 meetings to understand major obstacles, gaps, and opportunities for the county to achieve zero waste. More than 170 people representing processors, haulers, environmental advocates, construction and demolition businesses, multifamily properties, small and large businesses, the reuse industry, and others attended a meeting in April and May 2022.

    Resource Recycling Systems, the solid waste consultant hired for the development of the Zero Waste Plan, held the stakeholder meetings and analyzed feedback to identify themes. The following is a summary of what we heard from the industry stakeholder meetings. You can also see a summary of the industry stakeholder meetings (PDF).

    Zero waste is supported, and urgent action is needed

    Industry stakeholders support the goal of zero waste but acknowledged it would take significant time, effort, and investment to achieve. Given that, they said the county should act urgently. They said the biggest benefit is the opportunity for the county and its residents to maximize the use of resources while reducing waste.

    The current system is not equitable

    Industry stakeholders said the current solid waste management systems places unfair economic burdens and costs on some communities, results in uneven access to services and opportunities, and creates pollution that unfairly impacts certain communities and neighborhoods. Conversely, stakeholders reported that the solid waste industry, large corporations, and affluent neighborhoods and homeowners benefit from the current system. They said that increasing access to programs and services and offering financial support or other programs for lower income residents will help to reduce some of these burdens and inequities.

    Barriers to zero waste need to be addressed

    The county will need to address several key barriers in order to achieve zero waste. Industry stakeholders identified the following key barriers:

    • The need for significant behavior change
    • Packaging that is designed for single use and is hard to recycle or reuse
    • Lack of knowledge and need for increased education and engagement on recycling
    • Costs and amount of funding needed to be successful

    There are many opportunities to move toward zero waste

    Industry stakeholders contributed more than 400 ideas for how the county could address barriers and implement solutions to move toward zero waste. The following themes emerged in four key areas:

    • Access: Improve access by making the system easier, increasing options, and addressing inequities.
    • Infrastructure: Develop infrastructure through capital improves, optimize existing infrastructure, and invest in public-private partnerships.
    • Policy: Pursue policies that hold producers responsible for the materials they make, create economic incentives and rebates, establish disposal bans and diversion requirements, and make programs mandatory.
    • Outreach and education: Increase knowledge, improve awareness of programs and services, and address behavior change.
  • Case studies help identify gaps and opportunities for Hennepin County

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    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.

  • Zero Waste Plan action planning work groups

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    Work groups that include a broad diversity of community voices, industry stakeholders, and subject matter experts are currently working to identify and recommend actions that will accelerate Hennepin County to a zero-waste future.

    More than 160 people registered to join a work group. Each work group has at least 20 members that includes a balance of community members, stakeholders, and experts.

    Work group themes

    Action planning work groups have been formed around the following themes. These themes were developed based on the priorities, challenges, and ideas for solutions we heard from the community and industry stakeholders during the first phase of community engagement.

    1. Equity and access: This group will consider topics like increasing ease of participation, expanding availability of services, ensuring communities benefit equally, reducing burdens, and offering incentives.
    2. Policy: This group will consider topics like incentives, funding, mandates, bans, data and reporting requirements, local ordinances, producer responsibility initiatives, and state policies
    3. Neighborhood solutions: This group will consider topics like incentives, community engagement, multifamily settings, school programs, litter reduction, community-driven solutions, and drop-offs and events.
    4. Advancing circularity: This group will consider topics like increasing reuse and sharing, reducing waste, conducting education about consumption, salvaging building materials, reducing single-use items, and finding options for textiles, plastics, and other hard-to-recycle items.
    5. Systems and infrastructure: This group will consider topics like hauler contracts, public-private partnerships, end-market support and development, recycling and organics recycling processing, HERC/waste-to-energy, and landfilling.
    6. Green streams: This group will focus on organics recycling and consider things like increasing access and participation, developing solutions for multifamily settings, expanding processing capacity, implementing requirements or bans, supporting community gardens, and reducing food waste.
    7. Blue streams: This group will focus on recycling and consider things like improving recycling for all residents, businesses and schools, analyzing hauler-provided services, improving upstream packaging design, addressing hard-to-recycle plastics, establishing drop-offs, and implementing requirements and bans.

    What the work groups will do

    Each action planning work group will:

    • Learn about Hennepin County’s solid waste system and the challenges and opportunities to achieving zero waste
    • Review and propose actions that will accelerate the county’s path to zero waste.
    • Finalize recommended actions for inclusion in the county’s Zero Waste Plan.

    Learn more about what the works groups will do in the Zero Waste Plan action work groups charter (PDF).

    Meeting schedule

    Each work group participant will attend four, 90-minute virtual meetings held on Zoom. The first and last meetings will be joint meetings with all work group participants, and the second and third meetings will be with individual work groups. Participants will be asked to complete small homework assignments between meetings.

    All meetings will go from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the following dates.

    Meeting 1: All work group participants

    Tuesday, July 19 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

    Meetings 2 and 3: Individual work group meetings

    Workgroups 1, 2, and 3

    • Tuesday, August 2 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
    • Tuesday, August 16 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

    Workgroups 4, 5, 6, and 7

    • Thursday, August 4 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
    • Thursday, August 18 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

    Meeting 4: All work group participants

    Tuesday, August 30 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

  • Transformational systems change is needed to get to zero waste

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    In 2020, 42% of waste generated in the county was managed as recycling and organics, and the remaining 58% was managed as trash. Despite implementing many new waste reduction and recycling programs and policies over the past 20 years, it has been challenging to achieve a diversion rate greater than 50%.

    Achieving zero waste will require significant changes in our individual behaviors and transformative changes in the policies, programs and resources that make up the solid waste system.

    The county looks forward to engaging the community to bring diverse perspectives and collective action to shape and drive this transformational change.

Page last updated: 29 Jun 2023, 09:54 AM