Green Notes: Join the Zero Waste Challenge, learn how to conserve water in a drought and stay healthy during air quality alerts

green notes

Get personalized help to live a lower waste lifestyle

Apply now for the Zero Waste Challenge 

Many people are interested in taking steps to prevent waste, declutter, and recycle more 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.

A life-changing experience for past participants

Carolyn Wieland of Eden Prairie said the Zero Waste Challenge was “truly life changing for our family. It made us take an in depth look at our consumption and waste habits and equipped us with tools and strategies to become better stewards of the environment.”

Photo of a Zero Waste Challenge family with quote saying the challenge was life-changing for them

Join the next round of the challenge

Throughout the eight-month challenge, participating households receive personalized coaching and support, attend virtual educational workshops, receive bi-weekly waste reduction tips, get access to supplies and materials, and connect with other households striving to live lower waste lifestyles.

The challenge will run from mid-September 2021 through early May 2022. Interested households should complete the online application by Tuesday, August 31.

Funding available to salvage building materials during home remodeling projects

To help divert waste from landfills, Hennepin County has grants available for up to $5,000 to deconstruct residential buildings.

Man and woman having a discussion in a room under construction

What is deconstruction

Deconstruction is the “unbuilding” of a structure piece by piece using mostly hand tools to preserve building materials for future use. The grant funding helps cover the added labor costs of deconstruction over standard demolition. See deconstruction in action in our new video.

Screenshot of video with two men working on deconstructing a house using hand tools

Eligible projects and commonly salvaged materials

Property owners and developers are eligible to apply for grant funding for projects on residential properties. The project must be 500 square feet or larger on properties built prior to 1970.

One of the most valuable materials reclaimed during deconstruction projects is old growth lumber. This wood, harvested before 1940, is dense, durable, and insect and rot resistant. Other commonly salvaged materials include cabinets, brick or stone, plumbing fixtures, and radiators. See the eligibility requirements to learn if deconstruction grants are a good fit for your project, and read more about deconstruction in the Longfellow Messenger.

For more information, contact Olivia Cashman at

Share your priorities for protecting natural resources

We are starting the process of updating the Hennepin County Natural Resources Strategic Plan, which will define our natural resources goals and strategies for the next 10 years.

Take our survey to share your priorities for protecting natural resources and to let us know how you would like to be engaged in the update of the plan. The survey is available in English, EspañolHmoob, and Soomaali.

Graphic with pretty lake in background with text Share your priorities for protecting natural resources in Hennepin County, take our survey

About the Natural Resources Strategic Plan

The plan guides the county’s work to improve, protect, and preserve natural resources and provides a framework for our natural resources policies, programs, and partnerships.

The updated plan will seek to better align with new county initiatives, shifting demographics, and changing landscapes. This is the first opportunity to incorporate the county’s climate and racial equity priorities into the foundation of the plan.

Learn more and stay up to date

Learn more about the county’s role in protecting natural resources and the plan update process and timeline at

Sign up for Natural Resources Strategic Plan email updates to stay informed of the process and opportunities to provide feedback at each step.

Recycling labels and printed factsheets now available to order

Order forms for recycling and environmental education resources are once again available. Labels waste bins at your home, school, or workplace, get ready for summer and fall community events, and help educate others about environmental topics with our free resources.

The following resources are available. Please plan ahead as processing and filling orders may take longer than usual due to limited staff capacity.

  • Residential recycling: Labels, guides, and factsheets are available to Hennepin County residents to improve recycling at home and to distribute to friends and neighbors.
  • Environmental education: Factsheets, pamphlets, and handouts covering a wide variety of environmental topics are available to community groups, volunteers, cities, nonprofits, and schools in Hennepin County.
  • Business recycling: Signs for waste bins and dumpsters and recycling and organics recycling at work guides are available to businesses and organizations located in Hennepin County.
  • School recycling: Signs for waste bins and dumpsters and recycling and organics recycling at school guides are available to schools located within Hennepin County.

Stay healthy during air quality alerts

In July, the Twin Cities area experienced air quality alerts due to an increase in fine particles from Canadian wildfire smoke. This made the air unhealthy for sensitive groups, which includes those with asthma, heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and people doing extended physical activity outside.

Sign up to be notified of air quality alerts so you know when to take the following steps to stay healthy and reduce pollution.

Stay healthy

Everyone should take precautions when the air quality is unhealthy:

Group of men playing soccer
  • Take it easy, listen to your body, and limit, change, or postpone your physical activity.
  • Stay away from local sources of air pollution, like busy roads and wood fires, if possible.
  • If you have asthma, follow your asthma action plan and keep quick relief medicine handy.

Reduce pollution

There are also steps people can take to reduce pollution to avoid contributing more to unhealthy air quality. These include:

Light rail train leaving downtown
  • Reduce driving by combining trips, avoiding unnecessary idling, carpooling, and walking, biking, or taking public transit.
  • Postpone backyard fires.
  • Postpone the use of gasoline powered lawn and garden equipment. If possible, invest in electric lawn equipment.

Learn more about air quality and how to stay healthy during poor air quality days on the Hennepin County Climate Action website.

Natural resources opportunity grants support large projects that have a big impact

Hennepin County’s natural resources opportunity grants support large projects that improve water quality and preserve, establish, or restore natural areas.

Projects supported by these grants often involve coordinating with multiple partners and leveraging several funding sources. The following opportunity grants recently wrapped up and are having a big impact protecting natural resources.

Addressing flooding and creating an “eco-mosque” in north Minneapolis

Landscaping and stormwater management changes at Masjid An-Nur mosque

The Masjid an Nur Mosque in north Minneapolis received a $50,000 opportunity grant in 2019 to address water issues in their basement prayer space after heavy rain events.

The mosque worked in partnership with the county, Metropolitan Council, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, and Metro Blooms to add rain gardens and drainage features adjacent to the building. Rainwater is directed toward those features and away from the building itself. Learn more about the eco-mosque project in the Sahan Journal and from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization.

Protecting water quality and engaging the community at six churches in Bloomington and Edina

A group of people in a rain garden outside of a church

The Nine Mile Creek Watershed District received a $60,000 opportunity grant in 2020 to install six rain gardens on church properties in Bloomington and Edina. These rain gardens reduce pollution and protect water quality in Nine Mile Creek and Normandale Lake.

Interpretive signs will be installed to educate the community about the benefits the rain gardens provide, and church staff and volunteers will be trained on rain garden maintenance to ensure they stay functional for at last 15 years. Learn more from Nine Mile Creek Watershed.

Integrating stormwater management into a green jobs training center in north Minneapolis

Woman with a shovel helping to plant a rain garden outside the Regional Apprenticeship Training Center

The Regional Apprenticeship Training Center in north Minneapolis received a $55,000 opportunity grant in 2019 to install a stormwater management system, which includes a series of connected grass swales and rain gardens to keep rainwater on site instead of running off into nearby rivers and streams.

The training center will help students and young adults explore career opportunities in clean energy and develop the skills they need for emerging energy-related careers. The stormwater management system is one component of the green infrastructure at the training center, which also include a solar array on the roof and electric vehicle charging stations. Learn more on the Energy News Network.

In the News

Can I recycle that? A guide to the recycling process sheds light on what is and isn’t recyclable

Knowing what is and isn’t recyclable is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the items you put in your recycling bin actually end up being recycled. But with so many products out in the world that all carry different symbols and instructions, recycling can be complicated.

Understanding how the recycling process works can help you understand why some things are or are not recyclable. Hennepin County Master Recycler/Composter Jessie Roelofs recently created an illustrated, step-by-step guide to the recycling process with tips on what is and isn’t recyclable – and why – explained throughout. See the guide on TPT.

Illustrations showing recycling being picked up from a home by a hauler and being delivered to a Materials Recovery Facility

Green Tip: Conserving water during a drought

Boy running through green lawn wearing shirt with bicycle and earth as the wheel

With much of Minnesota experiencing a moderate to severe drought and many communities putting water restrictions in place, it’s an important reminder of how valuable water is.

Drought is a naturally occurring feature of Minnesota’s climate, and climate projections suggest that the potential for drought will increase in Minnesota in the coming decades. Taking steps to conserve water will help protect this valuable resource and ensure you are prepared for future climate extremes.

Man watering a tree with a hose
  • Be smart about watering: Decides what needs to be watered, adhere to any watering bans in place, water at dawn or dusk to avoid losing water to evaporation, and make sure not to overwater.
  • Make sure your trees are getting enough water: Check the soil to determine if they need water, water slowly to ensure the water infiltrates into the root zone, and use mulch to prevent the soil from drying out. See tips for watering trees.
  • Cover your pool: If you have a pool, use a cover to prevent evaporation and fix any leaks right away.
  • Grow plants that need less water: Cut down on watering needs, provide habitat for pollinators, and reduce yard work by replacing grass in areas where you don’t need it, it doesn’t grow well, or is difficult to maintain. Learn how to help pollinators and conserve water.
Hands washing dishes without water
  • Reduce water waste in your home: Capture water from your faucets to reuse on your plants, install a water-saving showerhead, fix leaky faucets, and don't let water run unnecessarily.
  • Know how much water you use: Calculate your water footprint to learn how much water you use and the best ways to use less.
  • Be water efficient at work: Have a great impact by encouraging water conservation at your workplace and businesses you frequent.

Get more tips and links to resources for conserving water in a drought on the Hennepin County Climate Action website.

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