Our Hennepin County Zero Waste Challenge Results

We made it! We have come to the end of our Hennepin County Zero Waste Challenge! While we are at the end of this program, we are in no way at the end of our sustainable living journey. Hopefully if you are reading this, you have a tiny bit of interest in possibly changing your habits, or picking up some tips to further your sustainable practices. I never thought a county sponsored challenge I applied to, forgot about, remembered, and then for a moment wondered what we were getting in to could be so life changing.  

Our goal has never been to be truly zero waste. I know that might sound odd coming from a participant of the Zero Waste Challenge. We just didn’t think that would be something we could or wanted to do. Maybe someday in the future as processes and products change, it would be easier to adapt a zero waste lifestyle. For now, we are proud of, and excited about the changes we’ve made as a family. We will continue to learn and grow, educate others in a way that doesn’t insult but inspires, and make changes where we can. We know it’s ok to use plastic utensils, a disposable bottle of water, and a plastic bag if needed. We know that when we are able, we will choose the most environmentally friendly option. I think being able to identify what you should do versus what you can do is an important lesson.

At the start and end of the challenge, we were asked to weigh and report our waste data. For the first four weeks we averaged 26.66 pounds of waste per week for our family of five. This is data collected before making any changes to our lifestyle. By the last four weeks of the challenge, we averaged 14.81 pounds of waste per week for our family. I was worried our change in shopping habits due to COVID-19 would skew our results unfavorably. We were ordering a lot of groceries and household supplies online, buying non-perishable items that we normally wouldn’t, not being able to recycle plastic bags, etc. (Thankfully as of this posting date, we’ve been able to get back to a more normal shopping routine.) It’s been rewarding to see decreases in the amount of trash and recycling we have been producing. To help put some things in perspective, most weeks we have just one 13 gallon trash bag being rolled out to the curb. This is all of our trash for our household of five. Our results must have been pretty good, because we won the award for lowest total waste per person, per day!

Here are some general tips I found useful for our family:

– Set Realistic Goals: Much like a weight loss plan, it’s important to set goals that you can attain, and then challenge yourself to set new ones once you reach those.

– Think of the 5 R’s: We all remember Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – how about adding Refuse and Repurpose to that formula? Refuse means saying “no” to items such as single-use disposables and promotional freebies. Repurpose means giving something new life instead of tossing it.

– Be Efficient: This really comes down to being organized and prepared. Plan out your errands to make for less driving. You’ll find yourself doing a better job at making grocery lists and bringing items to assist in your errand running (like shopping bags, packing snacks or a water bottle, etc.). Consider doing order pickup versus having something shipped to your home if you know you’ll need to stop in that store anyway. Set yourself up for success.

– Use It Up First: Just because you’re trying to be more environmentally friendly, it doesn’t mean you need to throw out all those ‘bad-for-the-environment’ items in your home. We still have plastic baggies, toiletry samples, and plastic toothbrushes in our house. ‘Use it up first’ simply means use up what you have before buying a more eco-friendly version to replace the product. You can donate items that are still in good condition. You can save those plastic baggies for sending home leftovers with your guests.  

– Give Yourself Grace: We live in a culture where we are so used to buying things when we need want them, and then throwing them away once we are done with them. This disposable mindset can be very hard to reset. Give yourself grace and know that you don’t have to be hardcore to make an impact. If doing something is going to make you stressed out, rethink your intentions and find a new approach.  Like I’ve said many times before, we aren’t aiming to be totally zero waste. We will continue to buy plastic, we will continue purchasing things not made locally, we will continue running the sprinklers so the kids can play in the water. We make good decisions when we can, otherwise try not to sweat what we can’t control. Any positive changes you make should be celebrated!

So Now What?

There’s still so much to learn and explore, and I am thankful to be able to use this blog to share my interest in this subject with you! This spring, we started a garden for the first time. It’s not going to replace our regular grocery trips, but it sure is fun to know I can grow something from seed and eat it! We purchased an electric vehicle this past fall, and we’d like to share our experiences with that, too. There are some really cool sustainably and locally made products out there that I’d love to highlight. And I haven’t even shared in detail the room by room breakdown of all the changes we’ve implemented since starting this journey.

I’m partnering with Eden Prairie Community Education to offer a virtual workshop called Sustainable Living – Simplified! + Make Your Own Beeswax Wraps. The class was initially going to be in person, but we have moved to the online format due to COVID-19. It will be held on Monday, July 20 from 6:30pm-8pm. The class is $29, which includes all materials to make your own beeswax wraps. I will demonstrate how to make them, as you follow along and make your own! I’d love to have you join me as we have a basic discussion about sustainable living practices, identify areas in your life you can begin making changes, and connect with others who are interested in learning more about this topic.

To register:
Sustainable Living – Simplified! + Make Your Own Beeswax Wraps

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Carolyn Wieland

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