Forest Preserve District of Cook County Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment

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Project title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment

Sector: Parks and Recreation
Location: Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois
Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Waste Characterization

Background: In 2014, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County engaged the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to help understand the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the District a national leader in waste reduction practices.

Approach: TAP conducted a characterization of landfill-bound material collected from District properties. Waste samples were collected from the annual Pow Wow at Busse Woods (~5000 attendees), other smaller permitted events at Labagh Woods (900 participants), and a district-operated hauling truck, which collected landfill-bound material from various locations. A total of 831 pounds of waste was sorted, into 23 material categories, over a three-day sampling period. Alongside the waste characterization study findings, ISTC gathered information and observations about the materials management system at the District, for the purpose of proposing ambitious but achievable changes to District operations.

sorting at Maywood Garage
ISTC team at Maywood Garage Facility, sorting the waste sample from Busse Woods (Pow Wow).

Results: Key findings and observations about the District’s landfill-bound waste stream included:

  • Approximately 67% (1191 tons/year) of the District waste stream was currently recyclable or compostable in the Chicago area at the time of the waste audit.
  • Recyclables represented 28% (501 tons/year) 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 39% (690 tons/year) of the waste stream. “Compostables” included food scraps, paper towels, food-soiled paper, other paper foodservice ware, paper cups, and liquids.
  • Expanded Polystyrene (EPS or “Styrofoam”) represented 4% (71 tons/year) of the waste stream, by weight. Most of the EPS found in District waste is food-soiled, meaning it was not recyclable in the Chicago area.
  • The remaining third (33%, 593 tons/year) of the waste included materials that cannot be recycled or composted in the Chicago area. This included film plastic, trash bags, and composite materials. “Composite” materials were defines as those made of multiple material types which are difficult to separate for recycling. For example, a coffee pouch or juice box is made of layers of material that, put together, make it difficult to recycle.

TAP presented the District with multiple disposal cost avoidance scenarios. Using the findings from the waste characterization, TAP made recommendations for operational improvements in two areas:

  • Collection improvement: Related to the collection of recyclable items across District properties, and involving increased availability of collection bins, while controlling contamination of recyclables. Food scrap collection (composting) was an option for further increasing landfill diversion.
  • Permitted event improvement: Related to large events such as the Annual Chicago Pow Wow and regular permitted group events such as company picnics and birthday parties. This involved potential permitting standards to encourage Forest Preserve guests to use reusable or recyclable items and arrange for proper collection of source-separated waste.

Potential funding opportunities to support the implementation of the recommendations were also presented.

For complete details, see the project report, Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment: Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

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