Chicago Zoological Society Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment

Brookfield Zoo

Project Title: Chicago Zoological Society Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment

Sectors: Zoos, Aquaria, and Museums; Parks and Recreation 

Location: Chicago, IL

Services: Waste Characterization Study, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) has been committed to inspiring conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature since the gates opened at Brookfield Zoo (Zoo) in 1934. With a focus on conservation, environmental stewardship, and educational programs, CZS has shown the importance and need to protect and make natural areas accessible to all of the region’s citizens, classrooms, and visitors. In 2015, CZS engaged the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to understand the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making Brookfield Zoo a national leader in waste reduction practices.

Approach: In August of 2015, TAP conducted a characterization of landfill-bound material collected from Brookfield Zoo. Waste samples were collected from the 30-yard roll-off dumpster at the north end of the property. A total of 658 pounds of waste was sorted, into 23 material categories, over a three-day sampling period. TAP worked with CZS to coordinate the sample collection. Samples were collected periodically throughout the three-day period to ensure a representative waste profile. The ASTM standard test method for the determination of the composition of unprocessed municipal solid waste through manual sorting (ASTM D5231) was used as the guiding document to conduct sampling and sorting.


Key findings and observations about the Zoo’s landfill-bound waste stream included the following:

  • Approximately 59% of the Zoo’s waste stream was currently recyclable or compostable in the Chicago area and or in-house
  • Recyclables represented 21% of the waste stream. “Recyclables” included glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers, tinned food cans, non-foodservice paper, corrugated cardboard, and other plastic containers.
  • Compostables represented 38% of the waste stream. “Compostables” included food scraps, paper towels, food-soiled paper, other paper foodservice ware, paper cups, and liquids.
  • The remaining 41% of the waste consisted of materials that could be recycled or composted in the Chicago area at the time of the assessment. Of this 41% over 50% (21% of the total waste) was made up of single-use diapers. The rest of the portion included film plastic, trash bags, and composite materials. “Composite” materials were defined as those made of multiple material types which are difficult to separate for recycling. For example, a juice box is made of layers of material which, put together, make it difficult to recycle.

TAP additionally gathered data and observations about the materials management system at the Zoo, which were used to formulate recommendations for improvements in the collection of recyclable materials, and improvements in education and outreach to foster increased awareness, waste minimization, and related sustainable behaviors.

Other projects with this client: None at this time