The City of Minneapolis is drafting a “zero-waste” plan. In 2015, the City Council established a goal to recycle and compost 50 percent of its citywide waste by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030 — a “zero percent” growth in the city’s total waste stream.
“I think ‘zero waste’ is a fairly new topic; it doesn’t have a true definition as yet,” said Halston Sleets, the City’s sustainability and environmental justice policy aide in the mayor’s office. She joined the mayor’s office in late March.
Recently, she and the team of City staff hosted a series of engagement sessions to gather input from residents and business owners about the Zero Waste Plan.
According to a report released by the City earlier in September, the primary goals of the plan are to reduce waste in every sector of the city: residential, commercial, institutional (hospitals, schools) and public spaces.
The report indicated that the “Solid Waste Management Hierarchy” reflects reducing the amount of waste instead of using landfill for disposal.
“This is the first of many steps” before the plan is adopted, Sleets explained at the first of the engagement meeting September 11 at the Minneapolis Urban League in North Minneapolis. She facilitated each of the six meetings; the last one was at Sabathani Center in South Minneapolis.
Sleets held a meeting on the Northside and another on the Southside because of large pockets of Blacks and other people of color who reside in these areas. “It is real easy to come to a zero waste meeting or an environmental meeting and we are not reflected in the crowd. I felt it was important to see someone who looks like me presenting information that definitely affects our community.”
However, residents did not show up to the September 11 session.
Sleets and fellow team members said they believed short notice about the meeting on may have greatly contributed to the residents’ no-show at the Urban League.
“Having it at the Urban League was a great idea for a kick-off” to the series of meetings, Sleets said. “We should have [had] more time in advertising [it].”
All city residents, whether homeowners or renters, as well as business owners are required to recycle, states Minneapolis Recycling Coordinator Kellie Kish. Her office regularly sends out recycling reminders and other pertinent information. She especially encourages homeowners doing home remodeling to recycle such items as used light fixtures and doors they are replacing — often found in older homes “that you don’t find in new construction anymore,” said Kish.
Even large concrete is recyclable, continued Kish. “There are places around the country where they are recycling the concrete on site back into the [new construction],” she reiterated.
Kish also stressed that the City wants more recycling at public outdoor events at Special Service Districts (SSDs) where garbage and other trash largely accumulated often as a result. These locations, such as West Broadway, Central Avenue NE, Dinkytown, downtown, 50th and France and East Lake Street hopefully soon will become “zero waste events,” Sleets said. Recycling containers also should be placed at bus shelters, bus stops — especially “high frequency” routes, she suggested.
Sleets is a St. Paul native and a former Hennepin County environmental policy aide. She once worked for the National Park Service in Alaska, and earned a master’s degree in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School.
Sleets said she wants to see Blacks and other people of color fully understand the importance of zero waste and other environmental justice issues. “We are talking about a [lifestyle] change and a social behavior change,” she said. “Waste is another behavioral issue. It’s so easy to just throw away trash — you don’t have to see it, it’s not your problem anymore.
“I am a woman of color and if I wasn’t in this field, I wouldn’t even know how waste affected me,” said Sleets.
Sleets said it is important for people to appreciate the social, economical and benefits of zero waste. “We have to better equip our communities with knowledge and education.
“We want stakeholder engagement and community voices that have not been reflected in other plans to be the overlying voice for this plan,” pledged Sleets. “That is my vision for it.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.