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.

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/forest-preserve-district-of-cook-county/

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Sustainable Materials Management Plan

UIC SMM plan coverProject Title: University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Chicago, IL
Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Resilient Solutions, Stakeholder Engagement, Sustainability Planning, Waste Characterization and Management

Background: UIC engaged the ISTC Technical Assistance Program zero waste team to conduct a waste characterization study and assist with the development of a sustainable materials management plan.

Approach: Beginning in 2019, many stakeholders observed current waste management practices and coordinated and conducted a waste characterization study to represent campus-wide activities. Study results and annual material generation data were analyzed and extrapolated, campus focus groups were held to provide input for ideal material management, and the research and recommendations were collated into one comprehensive plan to increase waste diversion and ultimately achieve a zero-waste campus.

UIC partnered with TAP to conduct the waste audit, engage stakeholders, and spearhead plan development. The plan identifies nearly 100 strategies for waste reduction and diversion and was informed by the results of a November 2019 waste audit, along with insightful input received from students, faculty, staff, and community members.

The waste characterization study included more than 3,300 pounds of trash from 14 buildings and outdoor campus collection bins sorted into 32 material categories.

The audit team used an activity zone approach to capture waste from buildings by use, such as administrative offices, academic and lab settings, student residence halls, and multi-use spaces.

Landfill and recycling bins from various outdoor areas of campus, such as along internal walking paths, busy urban corridors, and in parking structures, comprised an “On-the-go” activity zone. The study team and an enthusiastic group of student, staff, and faculty volunteers sorted the waste over the course of a wintery week.

Co-led by ISTC, and UIC’s Office of Planning Sustainability and Project Management (PSPM), a team of staff, faculty, and students from various departments, external partners and industry experts developed the Sustainable Materials Management Plan.

Together team members worked to document and understand current waste management practices and analyzed waste generation. The Plan categorizes campus waste to show what is avoidable, currently recyclable, compostable, potentially recyclable, and non-recoverable.

The data revealed that 33% of the overall waste stream on campus is compostable material, such as food scraps. Nineteen percent of the waste stream is composed of recyclable materials such as paper or plastic bottles. Eighteen percent of the waste stream on campus consists of avoidable materials such as paper towels and disposable beverage cups. Five percent of the waste stream is comprised of potentially recyclable material such as plastic film and gloves that could be diverted through source-separated streams.

The remaining 24% of the waste stream consists of materials that are currently non-recoverable, i.e. items for which recovery end markets or programs do not yet exist, or for which solutions are not yet available at UIC or in surrounding areas. This includes items like single-use equipment and other non-recyclable paper, glass and plastic items.

“Data has been a critical part of our success in reaching almost a 50% recycling rate at UIC over the past decade, even while the number of students on campus has grown by 20%. With the help of data, the recycling program at UIC has vanquished a once prevalent view that Chicago doesn’t recycle. With the report from the ISTC led waste audit, the volume of food scraps, and the presence of currently recyclable materials point to impactful steps we must take in waste reduction, outreach, and education,” stated Joe Iosbaker, UIC’s Recycling Coordinator.

Bar graph showing the percentage of various types of materials present in the UIC waste stream during the November 2019 waste audit

The study team also gathered input from members of the campus community through an online survey and a series of focus groups. Discussions shed light on knowledge, perceptions, and expectations of waste management infrastructure, the overall campus culture surrounding resource recovery, waste-related priorities, and challenges. This feedback from the UIC community was used to develop strategies to increase recycling and waste reduction. Through this multi-layer process, UIC now has a comprehensive roadmap to build from the 47% recycling rate today and prime the conditions for a zero-waste campus by 2050.

“The comprehensive presentation in the Materials Management Plan provided by ISTC gives us a greater understanding of the tasks we have,” Iosbaker asserted. Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Director of Sustainability Cindy Klein-Banai reinforced those sentiments stating, “This study has provided the data and next steps for robust strategies for reaching our Zero Waste Goal within the UIC Climate Commitments. It also demonstrates the need for broad responsibility in developing our program across all units and departments of the university.”

“ISTC’s Zero Waste team acknowledges the great potential of a comprehensive, campus-driven Sustainable Materials Management Plan,” shared April Janssen Mahajan, Sustainability Specialist at ISTC. “We fully embraced the challenges and opportunities this project offered to help UIC reconsider, reimagine and redefine campus waste and materials management in support of the university’s mission to become a Zero Waste Campus.”

Results: UIC Sustainable Materials Management Plan

Other projects with this client: None at this time

Other projects in the higher education sector: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/higher-education/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Waste Transfer Station Data Management and Tracking System

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Waste Transfer Station Data Management and Tracking System

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL
Services: Implementation Assistance, Process Optimization, Resilient Solutions, Waste Characterization/Reduction/Management

Background: Members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) zero waste team were engaged by the University of Illinois Facilities and Services (F&S) to better understand and optimize operations at the waste transfer station located on campus.

Approach: In 2018, TAP worked with F&S staff to digitize collection truck weight tickets and create a new online tracking portal, in collaboration with the University of Illinois Administrative Information Technology Services (AITS), for use by the campus Waste Transfer Station (WTS). The portal, rolled out in December 2018, allows WTS staff to measure, analyze, and report on the material moving through the system. This level of detail can allow targeted modifications to hauling routes, pickup frequency, and collection container deployment to improve capture of specific waste streams, as well as provide data to inform potential outreach efforts and policy changes.

TAP also worked with Loadman Systems to pilot real-time truck scale collection systems, with the ultimate goal of truck route optimization.

Results: As of summer 2021, the project has led to reducing a whole garbage truck from the fleet and increasing operational efficiency by over 40%.

Other projects with this client: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

Green Lunchroom Challenge

Green Lunchroom Challenge logo

Project Title: Green Lunchroom Challenge

Sectors: K-12 schools (primary original sector targeted), Higher Education, Institutions (any with on-site food service)
Location: Illinois (primary focus); United States (Beyond IL)
Services: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Stakeholder Engagement, Waste Characterization

Background: According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production represented 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounted for 80 percent of the freshwater consumed in the US — yet, 40 percent of food in the US went uneaten. According to Feeding America, in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.* Food waste is clearly both a tremendous problem and an opportunity for improving the sustainability of our society. Reducing food waste in schools not only helps to ensure those precious expended resources are providing nutrition as intended, but also provides the opportunity to set important examples of conservation and systems thinking among our impressionable youth, which will hopefully stay with them as they become our next generation of leaders.

Funded by US EPA Region 5, this project focused on food waste prevention and reduction at K-12 schools.

*See the second edition (2017) of the NRDC “Wasted” report at https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-2017-report.pdf for more recent statistics. See https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/ for more recent statistics related to US food insecurity.

Approach: Launched in 2015, the Green Lunchroom Challenge (GLC) was a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their foodservice operations. By registering, participants were accepting the challenge to reduce and prevent food waste in their facilities. The GLC website provided suggested activities that ranged in complexity and commitment, to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget, and available community resources. Participants were not required to complete activities, but with each activity that was completed successfully, they earned points toward recognition at different “levels of accomplishment” (Bronze: 250-500 points; Silver: 501-1000 points; Gold: 1001-1900 points; Platinum: 1901 or more points).

In addition to typical activities related to food preparation, presentation, and waste disposal, schools could also choose to integrate food waste prevention and reduction into curricula, helping students learn about food security and hunger, composting, the circular economy, and stewardship. Links to archived suggested activities are available at https://green-lunchroom.istc.illinois.edu/k-12-schools/suggested-activites/. Participants that achieved different levels of accomplishment are highlighted on the GLC website and received certificates for on-site display. TAP staff members also provided comments and recommendations for further improvement to participants based on activity documentation submitted.

GLC brochure
Brochure used to market the project.

A kickoff workshop/training session was held at ISTC headquarters in Champaign, IL on September 17, 2015. This session provided an overview of the GLC, presentations on relevant tools and programs, and a group discussion of barriers and opportunities related to food waste prevention and reduction in K-12 schools. A free school food service training session was also presented by Greg Christian, Founder and CEO of Beyond Green Partners, a food service and consulting company focused on the nutritional and environmental impacts of school food. The presentations and training were videotaped to enable schools unable to attend, or which learned of the GLC after the kickoff, to benefit from the information shared. Presenters in addition to Greg Christian of Beyond Green Partners included: Joy Scrogum, ISTC; Susan Vescovi, US EPA Region 5; Kelly Boeger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Housing Dining Services, and Raj Karmani, Zero Percent. Throughout the project period (for the US EPA grant), TAP hosted webinars for participants on subjects such as food donation for schools, USDA’s “Smarter Lunchroooms” concepts and food waste reduction, commercial composting services available to schools, school gardening and on-site composting, and case studies of outreach on food waste prevention and reduction with schools.

Additionally, TAP partnered with the Springfield [IL] Public Schools (SPS) to assess the opportunities for food waste reduction and diversion. This hands-on assessment provided insight into the barriers and opportunities in implementing the activities included in the Green Lunchroom Challenge.

Results: By the time the project funding ceased, 27 IL schools, three IL school districts, and two “other” organizations (an elementary school in New Jersey and the DeKalb County [IL] Health Department) had signed up to participate in the GLC voluntary pledge program (see the archived participant list). Although funding for the project ended in December 2016, TAP continues to share resources via the GLC website blog to assist any institution or organization with on-site foodservice operations with food waste prevention, reduction, and diversion.

Other projects with this client (US EPA):

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/us-environmental-protection-agency-epa/

 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Waste Characterization Studies

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Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Waste Characterization Studies

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Service: Waste Characterization Study  

Background:  The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) was contracted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to conduct a campus-wide waste characterization study and pilot new waste stream diversions.

Additionally, TAP piloted four targeted zero waste efforts for campus: plan and execute a zero-waste football game; deploy a campus-wide nitrile glove recycling program; design and monitor on-the-go recycling bins for the main quad; and collect real-time fill data using commercially available sensors to gauge route efficiencies and recycling rates.  See the link below for “Other projects with this client” to learn more about those related projects.

Approach:  The two-phase project involved sampling eight buildings, including two residence halls, one academic building with laboratories, one academic building without laboratories, an administrative building, the student union, a bookstore, and a mixed-use event building. Each building was also audited for availability and location of refuse and recycling bins. Subsequently, employees and students that occupied these buildings were surveyed, to gauge knowledge of current programs, gaps in service, and overall satisfaction with the campus recycling program. With this data, TAP created both waste reduction and diversion plans for the individual buildings, as well as campus-wide recommendations.  

The second phase of this project also involved a public engagement aspect funded by the University’s Student Sustainability Committee. TAP staff members worked with a pair of graduate students to design and build a sculpture made from waste materials taken from the University’s waste stream. See the link to a description of that project below under “Results.” 

Results:   

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

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.

Results:

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