Green Notes April: Join the online Zero Waste Challenge, celebrate Arbor Day and services updates

green notes

Join the online Zero Waste Challenge

Slash your trash and live a lower waste lifestyle

Ever wonder how you create so much trash at home? Many people are interested in taking steps to prevent waste and recycle more but aren’t sure where to start.
Hennepin County’s Zero Waste Challenge will help you learn more, connect you with resources to help you reach your goals, and provide support and motivation along the way.

Join the Zero Waste Challenge graphic

Everyone can now join the Zero Waste Challenge

The next round of the Zero Waste Challenge is being offered online, which means anyone in Hennepin County can participate!

You can sign up now, set up your profile, and browse the actions you can take.

Zero waste actions you can take at home

This challenge will help you take an in-depth look at the goods you buy and waste you create to uncover opportunities to recycle more and reduce waste. You may be surprised by the variety of actions you can take.

The challenge has more than 100 actions to choose from in eight categories. You can check off the actions you already do, then select up to five one-time actions and five daily actions to make progress on during the six-week challenge. The challenge will run from May 17 to June 27.

Once the challenge starts, you will report what actions you take, see the impact of your changes, and connect with others who are taking action.

Sign up now and invite others to join

So sign up now, invite your family and friends to join you, consider what actions will be most impactful for your household, and get ready to slash your trash!

Celebrate Arbor Day

Arbor Day was celebrated on April 24 and Arbor Month will be celebrated throughout May. Getting outside and spending time around trees is good for our health and well-being, so use these resources to get outside and celebrate trees this Arbor Day.

Arbor Day Bingo: Get to know your neighborhood trees

A lot of us are spending more time than ever at home, in our backyards, and going on walks. So this is a perfect time to get to know your neighborhood trees!

Take a walk around your neighborhood or visit a local park and see how many of these common urban trees you can find. Use the Arbor Day Bingo card below, or download it here.

Arbor Day Bingo

Tree identification help

It is more challenging to identify trees when they don’t have their leaves, but it’s not impossible! Some tips and resources:

  • Think about the trees you are familiar with in your neighborhood and what they look like throughout the changing seasons
  • Use the tree identification guide (PDF) from Hennepin County and the University of Minnesota
  • See the winter tree ID guide from the University of Wisconsin 
  • Keep your bingo card and see what additional trees you can identify in the coming month as they grow their buds, flowers, and leaves

Healthy tree canopy grants available

Champlin tree planting

Hennepin County has healthy tree canopy grants available for tree plantings, ash tree removals, tree inventories, outreach and more. Grants are available to cities, affordable housing properties, schools, and nonprofit organizations.

The grants aim to combat threats to trees from invasive insects and disease, educate the public on tree care and the importance of trees, and increase the diversity and resiliency of the tree canopy.

Applications are due by 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. Learn more and apply.

For more information, feedback on your project ideas, or help with your application, contact the Hennepin County forestry team at

Spring tree care tips

One of our foresters, Dustin, joined us from his backyard to share spring tree care tips. He covered removing bark protection from young trees, which is important to help young trees grow because they can actually photosynthesize through their bark! He also explained how to prune trees and shrubs and offered advice on proper mulching. Watch here.

Spring tree care videos

Additional forestry and Arbor Day resources

Hennepin Responds: updates on Environment and Energy services

Hennepin County is committed to providing services during this time of ambiguity and quickly evolving needs. We’ve mobilized our workforce and are developing new approaches so we can continue to serve residents, businesses, and partners equitably, efficiently, and safely.

Modifying and innovating our services

We have been working to quickly innovate so we can continue to provide our programs and services in new ways. Some examples include:

Supporting local businesses

We are doing what we can to support local businesses so that they can continue to meet the needs to the community. Some things we are doing:

  • Offering business recycling grant funding to help food shelves and meal programs buy freezers. The grants help expand capacity and extend the season for produce that would otherwise go to waste. More information can be found in the business recycling grant guidelines.
  • Promoting programs that enable restaurants and caterers to prevent food waste and serve those in need, including Minnesota Central Kitchen and Meal Connect
  • Supporting reuse retailers through the Choose to Reuse program by offering training, connecting them to marketing and merchandising professionals, and providing networking opportunities.

Environmental education grants available

Students with Midwest Food Connection activity

Environmental education grants support organizations in actively educating, engaging, and motivating residents to become environmental stewards and take environmentally friendly actions. Eligible applicants include nonprofit organizations, community groups, youth programs, schools, congregations, early childhood family education programs, and park districts.

Applications for the 2020 round of environmental education grants are being accepted now through 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 28.

Two types of environmental education grants are awarded:

  • Environmental action grants for projects that focus on motivating adults to do more to protect the environment by focusing on one or two environmentally friendly actions using behavior change strategies.
  • Youth environmental education grants for projects that engage youth in learning about the environment and becoming environmental stewards using youth environmental education best practices.

Informational webinars are being held Wednesday, May 6 at 10 a.m. and Thursday, May 14 at 1 p.m. Access the grant guidelines and learn how to apply.

For more information or to RSVP to an info meeting, contact Patience Caso at or 612-348-9352.

Aquatic invasive species prevention grants awarded

Aquatic invasive species prevention inspection at boat access

The county recently awarded nine grants totaling $389,250 for projects that prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. The awarded projects will prevent and slow the spread of aquatic invasive species by using emerging technologies to detect aquatic invasive species early in lakes, supporting research and outreach on pathways beyond boat accesses, expanding inspections and outreach at public lake accesses, and funding research and education. Learn more about the grants awarded.

Safety and AIS prevention reminders for the start of boating season

Hennepin County staff recently installed more than 500 navigation and safety buoys on Lake Minnetonka, Lake Sarah, and Lake Independence. This is a sure sign that fishing and boating season is getting underway in Minnesota.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office offers the following safety tips for boaters

  • To follow social distancing guidelines, only boat with those in your immediate household. Go directly from your house to your boat and back. Don’t beach or tie up to other boats and keep your boat at least six feet away from other boats and people. Don’t use beaches, boat ramps, or marinas that are closed.
  • Wear your life jacket while boating. Water temperatures are still cold, and hypothermia can happen quickly in these conditions.
  • Carry all required boating safety equipment, including life jackets, flares, navigation lights, a horn or whistle, and a first aid kit.  
  • Let someone know when you are going out and where. 
  • Be sure to monitor children when they are near the water.
Woman cleaning weeds off boat and trailer

Boaters are also reminded to take steps to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species when moving boats or other watercraft:

  • Clean all visible plants, insects and animals from boats, trailers, docks, and other water-related equipment before leaving the water access or shore.
  • Drain water-related equipment such as motors and portable bait containers, and remove drain plugs to drain bilge, livewell and baitwell water.
  • Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.

Funding and support available to establish conservation easements

Permanently protect your land, preserve what you value, and leave a conservation legacy

Conservation easement in Eden Prairie

Hennepin County is working to protect the last best remaining natural areas in the county and partnering with landowners to permanently protect their land is an important part of reaching that goal.

Landowners can be compensated for permanently protecting their property with a conservation easement, which is a set of development restrictions that a landowner voluntarily places on their property to permanently protect its natural resources. Funding is also available for habitat restoration projects on protected properties.

Conservation easements are one of the most effective tools for permanently protecting natural areas on private property. They allow landowners to protect what they value about their land, whether that be the open space, views, rural character, wildlife habitat, mature forest, and more.

Hennepin County is gathering interest from landowners who want to explore the opportunity of establishing a conservation easement. Applications for the next round of projects are due July 17.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the Hennepin County habitat conservation program or want to apply for conservation easement funding, fill out the online interest form or contact Kristine Maurer at or 612-348-6570.

Collaborative actions start to stop the spread of nonnative phragmites

Hennepin County natural resources specialists are conducting outreach and taking coordinated action to control the spread of nonnative phragmites.

Why nonnative phragmites is a concern

Nonnative phragmites

Nonnative phragmites is a new threat to wetland ecosystems and drainage systems in the Twin Cities area. Eradication of this invasive weed from Hennepin County is possible if actions are taken now.

Infestations of nonnative phragmites cause serious ecological, economical, and recreational impacts. Nonnative phragmites can impede drainage and contribute to flooding, displace native vegetation, and reduce habitat for wildlife.

Nonnative phragmites is included on Minnesota’s list of restricted noxious weeds, which means that importing, transporting, or selling the propagating parts of the plant is prohibited. Minnesota statute identifies certain plants as noxious weeds because they are injurious to public health, the environment, public roads, crops, livestock or other property.

Stopping the spread

Hennepin County is coordinating with cities, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and private landowners on control efforts within county rights-of-way and on county properties. To support coordinated efforts throughout the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has awarded grants to soil and water conservation districts throughout the metro. Coordinated control over the next few years will make the necessary actions to effectively eradicate this noxious weed possible while management and associated costs are still feasible.

City staff and landowners who have nonnative phragmites infestations on or near their property will be receiving information soon on identification and management. Residents are asked to be on the lookout and report any suspected infestations to the county weed inspector, Matt Stasica, at

In the news

New grants encourage salvage, reuse, and recycling of building materials

Space constructed with reused cabinets

New grants from Hennepin County provide homeowners up to $5,000 to deconstruct buildings to salvage building materials for reuse rather than demolish them. Instead of thinking of their building materials as waste, homeowners are encouraged to think creatively about how materials could in incorporated into a project or donated to a building materials reuse retailer. Types of materials that can be salvaged and reused include appliances, cabinets, doors, hot water radiators, light fixtures, windows, and wood flooring and trim.

A Minneapolis resident who has done many home renovation projects with recycled materials offers the following advice: make sure you enjoy the hunt for materials you can use, have a place to store items until you need them, stay flexible and be open to materials that may take your project in a new direction, and use YouTube to learn how to fix or use something. Read more in the Northeaster.

Restaurants team up with organizations fighting hunger to rescue food and serve those in need

Recognizing a growing need for food in the community, local restaurants and caterers like Chowgirls Killer Catering have teamed up with Second Harvest Heartland to create Minnesota Central Kitchen. The effort provides jobs to furloughed restaurant workers, rescues food before it goes bad, and serves 10,000 meals a week those facing hunger. Read more on CivilEats.

Green Tip: Steps you can take to support recycling and waste management programs

The county’s solid waste facilities – the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center and the Brooklyn Park Transfer Station – have continued to operate during the stay-at-home order, and staff at the facilities have noticed rapid shifts in the waste coming in. The portion of the garbage from businesses and other commercial generators have decreased dramatically, while the residential portion of the trash has greatly increased. This has led to increased pressure on waste haulers and facilities trying to keep up with the higher demand on residential services while taking precautions to keep their employees safe. You can do the following to support your recycling and waste management programs.

Follow your hauler’s guidelines

Some waste haulers have modified their guidelines for residential pickup, such as limiting how much can be set out or requiring that all waste be in a certain container. Be sure to pay attention to and follow updated guidelines from your city or waste hauler.

Know what you can put in organics recycling

Mom and son putting food in organics recycling

Local compost sites are making changes to protect their employees, and one step they have taken is to limit manual sorting of materials to remove contamination.

So, it is now even more important to make sure you keep anything that can't be composted out of the organics recycling.

To make sure you are composting as best as you can:

  • Review the organics recycling guide (PDF).
  • If you struggle with remembering what to compost, stick to food. It’s the most valuable material to divert from the trash, and you can include all food in organics recycling.
  • If you include any compostable foodservice products like cups, food boats or clamshell containers, make sure they are certified compostable. Look for the BPI logo on certified products.

Have a plan to store your stuff

At the same time that many people are cleaning their homes, many donation centers and drop-off locations have been closed or are modifying their services. Make sure you still donate, recycle, and properly dispose of materials by having a plan for storing items you’re ready to get rid of until sites open back up.

Start backyard composting

Backyard composting bin

If you can, now is a great time to start a backyard compost pile. With backyard composting, you can turn your fruit and vegetable scraps and yard waste into a nutrient-rich material that you add to your yard or garden to help plants grow.

Remember that different materials can go in backyard composting than curbside organics recycling. You can include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, napkins, paper towels, egg cartons, leaves, and grass clippings. Be sure to leave out meat, dairy, and compostable plastics.

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