Green Notes July: Learn strategies to prevent waste by joining the Zero Waste Challenge

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green notes

Slash your trash by joining the Zero Waste Challenge

Learn practical solutions to prevent waste and practice more thoughtful consumption

Low-waste grocery shopping

Many people are interested in taking steps to prevent waste and produce less trash, but aren’t sure where to start. Joining Hennepin County’s Zero Waste Challenge is a great way to learn more and get hands-on help.

The county is looking for 50 households to participate in the eight-month-long challenge that takes an in-depth look at the goods we buy and waste we create to uncover opportunities to recycle more and reduce waste.

Donating toys

You may be surprised by the variety of actions you can take to reduce waste. Repairing items when they break, buying clothes secondhand, shopping for food with less packaging, using your smartphone for as long as possible, and eliminating junk mail are just a few waste prevention actions.

The Zero Waste Challenge will help you better understand the waste your household generates, decide the best waste-reduction actions for you to take, and provide you with support and resources to reach your goals. Past participants have called the challenge eye-opening and a conversation-starter, and said it both educated them and pushed them into action.

The challenge will go from September 9, 2019, to April 30, 2020. Interested households should complete the online application by Sunday, August 18.

Grants available to protect and plant trees

Applications for cities and affordable housing properties due August 15

Tree planting on Hiawatha Ave

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.

Applications for cities and affordable housing properties are due Thursday, August 15. Applications for schools and nonprofit organizations are due In October.

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

Environmental cleanup funding will help build survivors memorial

The Hennepin County Board recently awarded a grant for contaminated soil cleanup at the site of a future memorial honoring survivors of sexual violence. Local non-profit Break the Silence is working with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to build the memorial in Boom Island Park in Minneapolis.

For more information, contact Mary Finch at or 612-543-1595.

Invasive viburnum leaf beetle discovered in Minnesota

Viburnum leaf beetle

The invasive viburnum leaf beetle has been found for the first time in Minnesota in Eden Prairie. The beetle is an invasive insect native to Europe that feeds exclusively on species of viburnum, which are a variety of flowering shrubs. The beetle eats the leaves of the plant, which weakens and can eventually kill it.

The beetle had previously been found in the northeastern U.S. and Wisconsin, and it is unknown how the beetle made its way to Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says this is an example of how easy invasive insects, plants, and diseases can spread throughout the U.S. and world.

The larvae of the viburnum leaf beetle are yellow to light brown with black spots and dashes on their bodies. They chew holes in the leaves in a similar pattern to Japanese beetles. Adult insects lay eggs along the twigs in egg pits that are easily seen with the naked eye.

Ways to control the spread the viburnum leaf beetle include selecting varieties that are resistant to the insect, pruning and destroying infested twigs, or using chemical controls. Residents are encouraged to report suspected viburnum leaf beetles to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by sending photos and location to Arrest the Pest, or 1-888-545-6684.

In the News

Going hi-tech to fight aquatic invasive species

A recent episode of Minnesota Bound featured the efforts of Hennepin County and partners to use innovative, hi-tech solutions to fight the spread of aquatic invasive species at Lake Minnetonka.

CD3 boat cleaning station

The county has installed electronic message boards at public boat accesses and on bridges over channels so that aquatic invasive species prevention messages can be shared with lake users close to where they need to take action. The message boards can also display safety and severe weather messages.

The county has also partnered with CD3 to install watercraft cleaning stations at public boat accesses. These stations make it easy for boaters to take action by providing the tools they need to clean their boats and trailers as they remove them from the lake. See the story at 6 minutes, 30 seconds into the episode.

Businesses that generate the most food waste required to start recycling it next year

Thousands of businesses in Hennepin County will be required to recycle their food waste starting next year. The requirement targets businesses that generate the most food waste, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels that produce more than a ton of trash and week. A WCCO news story recently featured the program at the Hilton in Minneapolis where food prep scraps and leftovers are sent to a local farm to feed livestock. Other businesses send their food waste to local composting sites.

Getting food waste out of the trash will have a big impact. Food waste in landfills generate methane – a potent greenhouse gas emission. And some businesses could be composting up to half of the things that currently go in the trash. Hennepin County offers technical assistance, grants, and education materials to help businesses start recycling their food waste.

Neighbors come together to clean up neighborhood pond

Floating island on Winchester Pond

Moving in across the street from a smelly neighborhood pond in Bloomington presented Heidi Niziolek the opportunity to rally her neighbors to take care of their small slice of nature. Niziolek convinced neighbors to adopt Winchester Pond and work together to clean up trash and remove invasive species.

They received a Hennepin County natural resources grant and a grant from Nine Mile Creek Watershed to install rain gardens in neighboring yards and a floating island in the pond. The island, with a base made of fibers from recycled plastic bottles and planted with native pollinator plants, acts as a manmade wetland that can improve water quality while providing habitat for pollinators.

It may take some time to fully understand the water quality impacts of these projects, but the pond has already become a more attractive place for picnics and enjoying nature. Learn more in the Star Tribune.


Purchase a compost bin and get started with backyard composting

Backyard compost bin

Start recycling your fruit and vegetable scraps and yard waste into nutrient-rich compost right in your backyard by purchasing a compost bin kit from Hennepin County.

Hennepin County sells compost bins that are made of cedar and wire mesh. Bins are sold as a kit with all materials, hardware, and assembly and composting instructions included; some assembly required. Bins cost $50 each, and optional lids are $10 each.

Bins must be pre-ordered for pick up at a distribution event. Distribution events are scheduled for:

  • Saturday, September 7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Augsburg Park Library in Richfield. Come early for a backyard composting workshop from 10 to 11 a.m. at the library. 
  • Monday, September 9 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Plymouth Maintenance Facility

Compost bin kits can also be purchased at the Hennepin County Drop-off Facility in Brooklyn Park during regular facility hours.

Environmental exhibits to check out during your visit to the Minnesota State Fair

Adopt-a-drain at the state fair

Believe it or not, the Great Minnesota Get-Together is fast approaching. Some exhibits to be sure to check out during your visit to the fair:

  • Watershed Partners’ Adopt-a-Drain exhibit in the Eco Experience building: Get your photo taken in the adopt-a-drain photo booth, protect your drain at the adopt-a-drain air hockey table, sign up to adopt-a-drain in your neighborhood, and talk to local water quality experts.
  • Water Day at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources building on August 30: Learn to identify aquatic invasive species and steps you can take to prevent their spread.
  • Medicine disposal at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office booth: Learn the importance of properly disposing of medicine to prevent poisoning and abuse and protect the environment, and find medicine disposal options near you.

Learn about the organics recycling cycle and get a free starter kit at upcoming farmers markets

Organics recycling outreach at Richfield Farmers Market

More than one-third of our trash is organic materials such as food, paper towels, and napkins that could be composted. In August, we’ll be visiting farmers markets in cities that recently started offering organics recycling drop-off programs to help residents learn how organics recycling works.

Free starter kits will be available to the first 50 households who sign up for the organics recycling drop-off. The starter kits are for new signs-ups to the drop-off, but additional resources are available for those already participating.

Find us at the following farmers markets:

  • Bloomington Farmers Market on Saturday, August 10 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Hopkins Farmers Market on Saturday, August 17 from 7:30 a.m. to noon

Hazardous waste collection event in south Minneapolis

Hennepin County is holding a hazardous waste collection event on Friday, August 9 and Saturday, August 10 at South High School in Minneapolis. The event will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

Hennepin County holds collection events across the county 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: Assemble a zero waste kit for your summer events

Many people are taking steps to prevent waste, and although we may be mastering low-waste actions at home, our best intentions can fall apart when we are on-the-go and unprepared. One simple solution is to assemble a zero waste kit. Whether it’s a trip to the state fair, a visit to a community festival, or your neighborhood’s National Night Out gathering, this will help you be prepared to avoid waste no matter where you are.

Takeout kit

Here’s an example of what a kit could contain. You probably already have many of the items that you’ll need. Remember to add more items for additional family members or friends.

  • A small bag to store the contents
  • Cloth napkin
  • Spoon and fork (or spork to save room!)
  • A lightweight plate
  • Drink containers (canning jars, water bottles, thermos, or reusable plastic cups work well)
  • A few reusable containers or storage bags for snacks or to pack up leftovers

It may sound like a lot, but most of these items can be nestled together and will help you prevent waste most of the time.

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