Green Notes May 2019: Annual recycling progress report available, apply for tree grants, successful waste reduction actions

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green notes

Annual recycling progress report available

Measuring progress toward our recycling goals

Annual recycling progress report

Hennepin County’s Annual Recycling Progress Report (PDF) provides an update on our efforts to meet our goals of recycling 75 percent of waste and sending no waste to landfills by 2030.

In 2018, county residents and businesses discarded about 1.45 million tons of solid waste. This includes everything put into recycling, organics recycling, and trash. That is a 1 percent increase over 2017, or about 16,000 tons more.

Of all the waste generated, 80 percent was diverted from landfills. The county’s recycling rate, which includes conventional recycling and organics recycling, was 49 percent. The remaining waste was managed as trash, with 31 percent going to waste-to-energy facilities and 20 percent to landfills.

2018 successes

The report highlights the following 2018 successes:

  • Revised the county's recycling ordinance to add requirements for food waste recycling and conventional recycling.
  • Supported the expansion of organics recycling by helping to establish and promote new organics recycling drop-offs and supporting neighborhood groups to conduct outreach.
  • Explored options for anaerobic digestion of organic materials as part of our efforts to improve and expand organics management capacity.
  • Encouraged residents to recycle the right stuff in response to concerns about the state of recycling. 
  • Delivered free compost to schools to help them close the loop on organics recycling. 
  • Opened new medicine drop boxes and promoted the availability of more than 30 drop boxes now available throughout Hennepin County.

For more information, contact Ben Knudson at or 612-596-1176.

Outreach about new business recycling requirements begins

The county had begun notifying businesses about the new recycling requirements that go in effect on January 1, 2020. Outreach will including mailings, phone calls, and site visits.

The following resources have been developed to help businesses understand the requirements: 

  • Training materials and how-to-comply guides to answer common questions to help businesses understand the food recycling and conventional recycling requirements.
  • A central access point for businesses to get quick answers from a recycling specialist – email or call 612-543-9298.
  • An online form to request technical assistance and/or a site visit to help businesses determine how to set up food waste recycling within their operations.
  • New guidelines for business recycling grants that prioritize businesses that will be affected by the food waste recycling requirements and waste prevention efforts. Businesses are strongly encouraged to apply for grants while they are still available to help with the purchase recycling containers and start up supplies. The remaining 2019 application deadlines for competitive grants are August 1 and November 1.

For more information about the business recycling requirements, contact Mallory Anderson at 612-348-3837 or Amy Maas at 612-348-6848.

Healthy tree canopy grants available

Hennepin County is offering grants to cities, affordable housing properties, schools, and nonprofit organizations to make positive changes in the tree canopy and engage residents in taking action to protect trees.

These grants aim to support efforts to educate the public on tree care and the importance of trees, combat threats to trees from invasive insects and disease, and promote the development of a more diverse and resilient tree canopy.

See the healthy tree canopy grants flyer (PDF) to learn about the different types of grants available.

Application materials will be available the first week of June. Grant applications for cities and affordable housing properties are due Thursday, August 15. Applications for schools and nonprofit organizations are due Monday, October 28.

For more information and to get help with grant projects, contact Hennepin County foresters at

Schools celebrate Arbor Day

Arbor Day tree planting at Prairie Seeds Academy

Several schools that received 2018 healthy tree canopy grants celebrated Arbor Day by planting trees on the school grounds.

Students at Prairie Seeds Academy in Brooklyn Park (pictured) planted 17 trees, talked about trees with Hennepin County foresters, and sang songs about trees.

Students and community members recently planted 30 trees at Whittier Elementary School in Minneapolis. On KSTP, the project lead explained that they are now on to the harder part of nurturing and helping the newly planted native trees survive.

Schools take steps to improve recycling and reduce waste

School recycling grants awarded

School recycling

Hennepin County recently awarded $179,000 in grants to 11 schools to help them reduce and reuse, start or improve organics recycling, or expand recycling. 

Schools are taking some innovative steps to reduce waste and improve recycling, including:

  • Adding sharing tables and refrigeration so that perishable items can be donated
  • Installing bottle filling stations to reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles 
  • Piloting a culinary tracking system to prevent food waste
  • Purchasing condiment dispensers to reduce waste from individual condiment packets 
  • Getting reusable dishes and utensils to reduce disposable foodservice ware 
  • Adding or improve organics recycling
  • Starting on-site composting to help students learn about the compost process first-hand
  • Expanding recycling to common areas and sports facilities

Learn about the grantees and their grant projects.

Free compost helps schools close the loop on organics recycling

School compost event

Hennepin County, in partnership with The Mulch Store compost site in Rosemount, delivered free compost to 41 schools in May. All of these schools collect food waste, napkins, paper towels and other compostable materials for organics recycling. They are now closing the loop by using compost in vegetable gardens, apple orchards, planter boxes, and pollinator gardens at their school.

School recycling success stories

School recycling project at Prairie Seeds

With the help of a 2018 school recycling grant, Prairie Seeds Academy in Brooklyn Park started a school-wide recycling and organics program. By recycling and composting, they reduced the trash at lunch from 14 bags to less than one bag!

The co-class presidents at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School fulfilled their campaign promise of introducing a recycling program throughout their school with the help of a 2018 school recycling grant. They placed 50 recycling bins throughout the school, at the stadium, and in classrooms when teachers request them. As part of this student-led initiative, members of the Eco-Friendly Falcons are taking volunteer shifts to empty the recycling bins, and future class presidents are required to continue the program. Read more in the Sun Sailor.

Steer clear of wild parsnip

Tips for avoiding and reporting harmful noxious weeds

Wild parsnip

Summer is just around the corner, meaning plants - both wanted and unwanted - are blooming. One plant to avoid is wild parsnip, a noxious weed often seen along roadsides that can leave you with the equivalent of a second-degree burn.

The plant produces a sap that contains chemicals called psoralens that react to sunlight. So if your skin comes into contact with the sap and is then exposed to sunlight, you can get severe blistering, swelling, and burns. Reactions to the sap and sunlight usually begin 24 to 48 hours after contact.

To identify wild parsnip, look for sharply toothed leaflets that spread in a row along either side of a single stem and yellow flowers that make an umbrella-like form called an umbel. The plant grows up to 5 feet tall and blooms June through July.

Wild parsnip isn’t very common in Hennepin County, and reporting infestations can help control the population and reduce its spread. The Hennepin County Agricultural Inspector is the point of contact for enforcement of the state’s noxious weed law.

Use extreme caution around wild parsnip and report any infestation to the Hennepin County Agricultural Inspector, Matt Stasica, at or 612-348-4659.

Grants awarded to improve recycling in public spaces

To help make recycling more widely available, Hennepin County recently awarded three grants to cities to add recycling in public spaces. The following grants were awarded:

  • Brooklyn Park will purchase 25 recycling containers to expand recycling collection at five city parks.
  • Edina will purchase more than 200 containers to expand recycling at 13 city parks, the Edinborough Indoor Park, Braemar Ice Arena, Braemar Golf Course, the Edina Art Center, and the Edina Senior Center.
  • St. Louis Park will purchase 48 containers to expand recycling and organics recycling at Westwood Hills Nature Center, the Municipal Service Center, and the Rec Center.

For more information, contact Carolyn Collopy at

Hopkins High School wins state Envirothon and advances to nationals

Hopkins envirothon winners 2019

On May 2, about 100 students took part in the metro area Envirothon at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. At an Envirothon competition, teams of students work collaboratively to demonstrate their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management topics such as aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlife and current events. This year, 20 teams representing seven schools competed.

Teams from Hopkins took the top three spots at the metro Envirothon, advancing to the state competition, while Minnetonka High School and Rockford Middle School both brought a strong contingent of engaged and enthusiastic teams.

A team from Hopkins High School won the state Envirothon in May, advancing to nationals in North Carolina in July where they'll compete for scholarships.

In the news

What to recycle and what happens to your recycling

Kare11 recently ran a two-part series on recycling. The first story featured a behind-the-scenes look at the Dem-Con materials recovery facility in Shakopee where recycling from residential carts gets sorted and baled.

Kare11 recycling story at Dem Con


They discussed some challenges that these facilities face from items that don’t belong in the recycling, like plastic bags and string lights that get tangled in the equipment and batteries that can cause fires. They also highlighted some recycling tips, including to leave plastic caps on plastic bottles, to not crush aluminum cans, and what the symbol with the number on plastic items really tells you (hint: it doesn’t mean that an item is recyclable).

So what actually happens to the materials that you put in your bin? Kare11’s second story features some of the 200 companies in Minnesota that take your recycled materials and turns them into new products. Boxes, ceiling tile, plastic furniture, plastic packaging, and rebar and just a few of the items your recyclables are turned into.

Kare11 story on what happens to your recycling


To help address some common questions about recycling, Hennepin County is encouraging residents to Recycle Smart and know what goes in their recycling cart. See our recycling guide (PDF) for a list of what’s accepted for recycling and learn about important items to keep out of your recycling cart.


Help plant trees on Hiawatha Avenue

Tree planting on Hiawatha

Saturday, June 1 from 10 a.m. to noon on Hiawatha Avenue between 38th Street and 46th Street in Minneapolis

Help beautify the Hiawatha corridor! Join us for a community tree planting event to plant more than 100 trees along the bike path.

No experience is necessary. Hennepin County foresters will provide all the tools and instruction on how to plant trees. This is a family friendly event. A light breakfast and lunch will be provided.

RSVP to Shane DeGroy at or 612-543-3697.

Hazardous waste collection events in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park

Hennepin County is holding two hazardous waste collection events in June. Events are held Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the following locations:

  • June 14 and 15 at St. Louis Park Middle School 
  • June 21 and 22 at Pillsbury Elementary School in Minneapolis

Hennepin County holds collection events across the county throughout the spring, summer, and fall to provide residents with a convenient option to get rid of household hazardous waste. A variety of items are accepted at collection events including paint, aerosols, cleaners, mercury thermostats, and more.

See the full list of hazardous waste collection events scheduled for this year and the materials accepted.

Green Tip: Successful waste-reduction actions

Learn effective actions to live a lower waste lifestyle from Zero Waste Challenge participants

The third round of the county’s Zero Waste Challenge wrapped up in May with participating households reporting impressive achievements in reducing waste and recycling better.

By the numbers

Here are some of the results that households achieved:

  • Reduced the amount of waste generated per person per day by almost one third.
  • Increased the average diversion rate (materials going to recycling or composting rather than in the trash) to 64%, a big increase from 44% at the beginning of the challenge.

Successful actions

Participants called the challenge eye-opening and a conversation-starter, and said it both educated them and pushed them into action. Here are some of the most impactful actions that participants took (and that you can take):

Start composting and improve recycling

Get food waste and other compostable materials out of the trash through curbside or drop-off organics recycling, backyard composting, or a combination of methods 

Make sure that you are recycling everything you can both curbside and with drop-offs, but avoid wish-cycling (or recycling things that aren’t actually accepted)

Backyard composting
Reusable paper towels

Eliminate disposables

Use reusable cleaning cloths, napkins and handkerchiefs, carry reusable coffee mugs and water bottles with you, avoid snack-packed foods, remember reusable grocery and produce bags, bring reusable to-go containers, use cloth diapers

Prevent waste in the first place

Get off junk mail list, cut back on online purchase, pay attention to packaging at the grocery store, create an eat first spot in the fridge, cook more food from scratch

Eat first shelf
Reusable pavers

Get crafty and DIY

Mix up green cleaning products, make beeswax wrap, construct a new sidewalk with free reused pavers

Get involved in the community

Take the Master Recycler/Composter class, attend a Fix-It Clinic, share your knowledge with friends, family, neighbors and groups you’re involved with, start conversations with local businesses

Spring Master Recycler class

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