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Boreal Community Media

How to reduce your waste with these Cook County resources and tips

May 08, 2023 05:40AM ● By Content Editor
Image: Elena Mozhvilo

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - April 21, 2023

The average American produces 4.5 - 5.5 lbs of trash each day (Cook County residents lean closer to 5.5 lbs of trash according to Zero Waste Cook County). And just because we throw that trash away, doesn't mean it actually goes away. It has to go somewhere, and that place is 120 miles away in Superior, WI. 

What's more, the specific landfill our trash currently ends up in was supposed to close last year but was granted a 4-year extension. In 2026, our waste will be driven even farther away to be dumped, however, no new landfills have been approved.

The three 'R's, 'reduce', 'reuse', and 'recycle' have been drilled into us for decades. But many people actively recycle and stop there. Recycling, while important, can be expensive and energy intensive. Additionally, resources such as time and location can limit how much some can do. 

Fortunately, there are other things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment this Earth Day and beyond. 

Related: PFAS are everywhere part 1: How we in Cook County & Grand Portage, Minnesota (and beyond) are exposed

Do a waste audit

When you think about the 'reduce' piece of the 3Rs, it can be overwhelming to know where to start - especially when looking at the trash we produce. The easiest way to begin is to conduct an audit on the waste your household generates. 

First, grab a pen, some paper, and maybe some family members (this can be fun to do with kids), and spend up to one minute identifying 3-5 common items you see in each trash bin in your home (no, you don't need to physically dig in). Write them down. 

Once you've gone through the trash bins in each room, compile all of the items that you've written down into one giant list. From there, narrow down the 3-5 most frequently identified items. (For example, someone may look into their bins and see the top 3-5 items were diapers, food scraps/waste, and paper products such as paper towels and tissues.)

Once you have the 3-5 items identified, it's much easier to figure out where you can slowly start to swap out conventional items for more eco-friendly options. 

The great thing about a waste audit is that you can do it as often as you want, and you can expand it to recycling, compost bins, or other locations such as school and work. 

Use what you have

A lot of times when someone is looking to start living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, they think they need to buy a whole bunch of sustainable items. This can lead to the myth that reducing your waste is expensive, which doesn't have to be true.

By using up the items you already have on hand, fixing and repairing pieces that are broken, or even seeing if you can go without something, you could potentially save money. 

Takeaway: the most sustainable item is one you already own and use. 

Bring your own container

Reduce your consumption of single-use containers that are utilized for a short period of time, then sent to the landfill by bringing your own reusable options.

Make a pledge to bring your own clean mug next time you stop at Java Moose or Fika Coffee to get something to drink (Java even offers a BYO mug discount). Or, bring a bag or container to buy spices, pasta, pantry staples, or a snack in bulk from the Cook County Co-op. 

Planning a stop at one of the amazing local food trucks? Bring your own silverware and reusable napkin instead of opting for single-use items. 

Learn more about eco-friendly living in Cook County from past CCHE webinars

Did you know that you can watch recordings of past Cook County Higher Education webinars? There are many videos on topics around sustainable living that you can stream for FREE. It's a great opportunity to learn from local experts in our own community, on your own time.

You can find the recordings here:

Get outside 

On April 22, 2023, all Minnesota State Parks will be offering free admission. Participate in your own classic Earth Day celebration activity and pick up trash while enjoying the beauty of our area. 

Did you know? Some local libraries (including the Grand Marais Library) have MN State Park passes that you can check out for free. Find out more here:

Consider starting a compost bin or installing a rain barrel

A common misconception is that food that ends up in a landfill will just "break down" and decompose. Unfortunately, landfills lack the basic nutrients needed for food waste to 'compost', and instead, it slowly breaks down releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 3x more potent than CO2. 

Composting is a fantastic way to keep food waste out of the landfill, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

As for rain barrels, installing one can help reduce water runoff (thus helping to keep our local bodies of water healthy), and overall conserve water, which can save you money. 

If you're interested in learning more or purchasing a compost bin or rain barrel, the Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District is hosting a sale on each. 

Event has passed: Attend the 2nd Annual Cook County Earth Day Fair 
The Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP), Zero Waste Cook County, and the Cook County Climate Action Team are once again teaming up to host the 2nd Annual Cook County Earth Day Fair on Saturday, April 22nd.

At the fair, visit booths from local organizations that are working to promote sustainable and healthy living, listen to speakers, attend story time from the Grand Marais Library, and much more. Food trucks will be onsite. 

To learn more, visit:

Related: Single-use Plastics and Cook County
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here