America Recycles Day

November 15th marks America Recycles Day. The event was created to celebrate and prioritize recycling in America. This year Keep America Beautiful and America Recycles Day are pairing together to celebrate the day and are asking people to:

  • pledge to learn about recycling in their communities,
  • act by reducing the amount of waste they produce and recycling what they do, and
  • share their efforts with their family and friends.

Thousands of people and organizations are holding events for the day across the country. Their efforts each year seem to be working as the national recycling rate has increased over the past 30 years, leaving the current recycling rate at 34%.

ISTC prioritizes recycling in many of its activities. It is evident in the research and technical assistance they conduct. They are looking for ways to recycle and reuse everything from solar panels and waste plastics to wastewater. ISTC’s Zero Waste Illinois and technical assistance programs conduct waste audits and other services for Illinois business and organizations of all sizes to help them switch to less toxic chemicals, divert materials from the landfill, and reduce water use.

Recycling is usually discussed in relation to the three Rs. Reduce consumption, reuse what you can’t reduce and, recycle what you can’t reduce or reuse. The fourth R is rethink. Consider ways to improve your environmental footprint, starting with decreasing consumption. . Make every day America Recycles Day.

Three Sustainability Initiatives to be Thankful For

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, many people take time to reflect on the past year and everything it’s brought them. Maybe it’s time with family. Maybe it’s a promotion at work or another big career milestone. Maybe it’s as simple as the copious amount of food that’s waiting to be consumed at Thanksgiving dinner (calories don’t exist on holidays, after all). When people think about what makes them thankful, sustainability doesn’t often come to mind. This Thanksgiving, let’s recognize three Illinois Sustainability Award winners that have made a difference in their communities.    

Photo Courtesy of Genesis Health System                                                                  

 Aisin Manufacturing Illinois  

Aisin Manufacturing Illinois, located in Marion, Illinois, is an automotive manufacturing plant that produces a variety of products, such as sunroofs, grill door shutters, and door handles. Their goal is to help improve people’s living environment under the slogans of “Create with,” “Harmonize with,” and “Be with.” In 2010, AMI implemented a “Go Green” program that provides environmentally-friendly choices with financial incentives. In other words, the company reimburses employees for incorporating sustainability into their lives outside of work. To qualify for incentives, employees must fit one of the following criteria:

  1. Purchased a new or used hybrid vehicle.
  2. Installed geothermal or alternative energy heating or cooling system.
  3. Installed air conditioning or furnace system with SEER rating 13 or higher.
  4. Performed any whole house energy efficiency upgrades.
  5. Purchased LED or CFL light bulbs or any new Energy Star-rated item.
  6. Purchased recycling containers or bins in the program’s inaugural year.

In 2016, AMI reimbursed $9,268 and 138 team members participated.  Learn more about their award-winning projects here.

Sweet Beginnings, LLC

Sweet Beginnings, LLC is an excellent example of the triple-bottom-line of sustainability. Working under the principles of people, planet, and prosperity, the social enterprise produces beelove, an all-natural honey and honey-infused body care product line. Based in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Sweet Beginnings’ employee roster is made up of graduates from NLEN’s “U-Turn Permitted” program. “U-Turn Permitted” is a training and preparedness program for formerly incarcerated individuals with over 383 graduates. In 2011, the program began a partnership with the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Chicago Department of Family Support Services. Their goal? Install and maintain beehives on the property of O’Hare International Airport to educate and promote the public about the health benefits of honey, the environmental benefits of pollinators, and the importance of preserving pollinator and other natural habitats (especially in dense, traffic-heavy urban areas like Chicago). Learn more about their award-winning activities here.

Loyola University Chicago  

The Chicago-based campus of Loyola University is approaching climate change with a focus on three areas: the campus, curriculum, and community engagement. The University has established its commitment to a sustainable future by implementing a social justice mission focused on climate change. Recently, Loyola released A Just Future,  a detailed climate action plan that includes a goal to be a carbon neutral campus by 2025. The campus aims to significantly  reduce energy use, increase clean energy, provide incentives to boost teaching,research, and engagement of climate science and adaptation, procure renewable energy credits and carbon offsets, and implement climate-ready infrastructure projects. Learn more about their award-winning efforts here.

These three organizations are just a few of the many Sustainability Award winners that have been recognized over the life of the program. So this Thanksgiving, between that sixth helping of mashed potatoes and post-meal nap, take a second to appreciate the importance of sustainability in society. It may not be a priority in your everyday life, but sustainability is the steady driving force behind making this planet a better place to live. For that, we should be thankful.

PRI Researchers Gather in Australia for Top GHG Control Conference

Nine Prairie Research Institute (PRI) carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) researchers traveled to Melbourne, Australia in October for the Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies Conference 14, the field’s leading biennial scientific gathering, sponsored by the 30-nation Energy Technology Network.

gas separation test facility for CO2 capture
The $100 million CO2CRC gas separation test facility in Otway, Australia is developing new membrane materials for use in capturing purified carbon dioxide at a high- concentration natural gas well. This apparatus demonstrates the ability to test lab scale, flat membrane sheets and single fibers of hollow fiber membranes.

While at the conference, they visited Australia’s major CCS center, the Otway National Research Center. Otway’s CO2CRC gas separation test facility is developing membranes and techniques for CO2 storage, according to ISTC Director Kevin OBrien.

OBrien added that Dr. Abdul Qader, CO2CRC’s facilities manager, explained new strategies for separating CO2 from methane. “This would be a major driver for the natural gas industry in the Asia-Pacific region,” OBrien explained.

“They also have the ability to test new sorbents as part of their research into pressure swing absorption,” he said.

PRI is also a major player in technology development for CCUS. At ISTC, research focuses on the development of a large-scale U.S. carbon capture pilot at a working coal-fired power plant. Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) researchers have developed expertise in sequestration of carbon dioxide in deep rock formations.

Because global demand for fossil fuels is not likely to decline soon, technologies must be developed to reduce carbon emissions by capturing, storing, and finding beneficial ways to use the waste gas, OBrien said. Capture requires a lot of energy and work at PRI and CO2CRC both search for better capture efficiency to lower its cost.

Work is underway worldwide to perfect a wide variety approaches. Successful commercialization of any of these technologies could be a game changer for climate change efforts because most of the world’s economies will continue using coal and other fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, said OBrien.

team of researchers at Australia conference
PRI CCUS researchers (left to right) Chris Korose, Randy Locke, Kevin OBrien, Sallie Greenberg, Scott Frailey, Vinod Patel, Nick Malkewicz (of Projeo Corporation), and Lance Schideman. Steve Whittaker and Keri Canaday (not pictured) also attended meeting.

2019 Notice of Funding Opportunity for Coastal Management Program Grants

The IDNR Coastal Management Program will soon be accepting pre-applications for projects of $1,000 to $100,000 to protect, preserve, and restore Illinois’ Lake Michigan natural and cultural resources.

Funding will be available for projects that:

  1. improve the health of the coast and Lake Michigan;
  2. enhance coastal public access, recreation, and coastal-dependent economic development;
  3. advance coastal community resilience; or
  4. create beach management plans.

Eligible applicants include local governments, universities, and non-profits. These are federal pass-through grants and match is required.

Successful pre-applicants will be invited to submit full applications. Grant guidelines, application materials, maps, and other resources will be available after November 19th at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/cmp/Pages/grants.aspx. The pre-application submission deadline is Friday, January 18, 2019.

We strongly encourage potential applicants to attend a grant information session. CMP will be hosting two sessions in November and December:

Chicago Loop
When: Tuesday, 11/27/18 from 3:30-5pm
Where: 160 N. LaSalle St., N 502, Chicago, IL 60601
Registration: https://goo.gl/forms/6c5S8M2eUFRUAmIX2

Webinar
When: Friday, 12/7/18 from 11am-noon
Registration: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=e0fc2753264dc8285e9c0ca13a492d7ea

If you cannot attend the grant information session or have additional questions, sign up for an optional grant consultation. Please contact lisa.cotner@illinois.gov for more information.

Persistent Organic Pollutants on Micropastics Project Expanded to include Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances

The Great Lakes are an important water and food source for both humans and animals. Anthropogenic contaminants such as microplastics, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are of increasing concern because of their potential impact on the environment and human health. Scientists lack understanding about many aspects of how these recently identified contaminants interact with the environment, aquatic species, and other potential contaminants.

With new funding from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) researcher John Scott and his team will be able to expand their research to include more environmental contaminants. With their current project on persistent organic pollutants in Lake Muskegon, they are studying the effects of microplastic type and deployment time in the sediments and the water column on sorption of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to the microplastic particles. This on going investigation includes legacy contaminants like chlorinated pesticides, polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The new funds will also allow the team to look at adsorption of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on the microplastics. PFASs are being found to be ubiquitous in the environment. This study will look at the role microplastics may play as a carrier of these compounds disperse them in water and sediment.

World Science Day for Peace and Development

The phrase “human rights” usually brings to mind things like, the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to work and education. The right to participate in and benefit from science isn’t something that usually comes to mind.

November 10th marks the World Science Day for Peace and Development, which highlights the important role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. It also underlines the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives. This year’s theme, “Science is a Human Right”, celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art.27) and the Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers.

By focusing on this theme, UNESCO aims to spark a global conversation about ways to improve access to and the benefits of science, in order to advance sustainable development and conserve Earth’s limited resources. They call on businesses, governments, civil society, and scientists to fully embrace the values of responsible and ethical science.                   

UNESCO’s Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers, passed in 2017, states that member states should, “contribute constructively to the fabric of science, culture and education, and the promotion of science and innovation in their own country… [and] promote access to research results and engage in the sharing of scientific data between researchers, and to policy-makers, and to the public wherever possible, while being mindful of existing rights.”

ISTC fulfills these recommendations through its publicly funded research and engagement efforts. From conducting research on microplastics in the environment to finding novel uses for carbon dioxide captured from power plants, ISTC researchers make significant contributions to their fields of research. Through the Illinois Sustainability Awards, the Center highlights projects by businesses and organizations that improve sustainability in Illinois. The Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference brings together researchers from all over the United States and even other countries to share their research and work toward solutions that can have an international impact.

Although UNESCO and ISTC approach the issue from different perspectives, both are working toward the same goal of a better world for everyone. Use today to celebrate the ways that science can make a difference and consider ways that you can too.

Northwestern releases comprehensive integrated solid waste management plan

Northwestern University has launched its first Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (ISWMP) aimed at reducing waste and protecting the environment by taking a greener approach to waste management.

This Plan supports the University’s Strategic Sustainability Plan, which establishes objectives for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing waste and fostering environmental and ethical stewardship. The ISWMP identifies strategies for meeting the University’s objective of diverting 50 percent of campus waste from landfills by 2020 and further outlines waste reduction opportunities.

The Plan will guide the University’s efforts to achieve its Resource Conservation program vision within Northwestern’s Strategic Sustainability Plan “to adopt sustainable procurement practices for materials, food and services and take a comprehensive approach to conserving resources and reducing and managing waste.”

The ISWMP provides Northwestern’s schools and departments the opportunity to support increased diversion and reduced costs.

The results of a 2017 waste audit, with input received from students, faculty and staff, informed the Plan, targeting reasonable strategies for waste reduction and diversion. The waste audit consisted of more than 9,000 pounds of trash sorted from 20 buildings across the Evanston and Chicago campuses into 21 categories.

“By learning specifically what is in our waste stream, we now have the information needed to improve education, inform waste reduction and reuse efforts and expand recycling opportunities,” said Julie Cahillane, Northwestern sustainability associate director.

The audit team used an activity zone approach to capture waste from buildings by use, such as administrative offices, student housing and multi-activity spaces. A study team and a group of volunteers from throughout the University sorted the waste. The Plan breaks down campus waste to show what is avoidable, currently recyclable, compostable, potentially recyclable and nonrecoverable. The data revealed that Northwestern could recycle, avoid or compost nearly 70 percent of waste generated on campus.

In addition to the waste audit, the study team gathered input from more than 80 participants through focus groups, one-on-one interviews and workshops conducted throughout the study period. Discussions shed light on the overall campus culture surrounding resource recovery, waste-related priorities and challenges. The feedback was used to develop actions for increased recycling and waste reduction.

Over the past 22 months, Northwestern partnered with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) to conduct the audit, engage stakeholders and develop a plan that would address the campus waste characterization and our stakeholder concerns.

“ISTC brought a wealth of knowledge to this process,” Cahillane said. “Their attention to the specifics of our campus and community were critical to the success of this effort. Working with them was a great experience.”

“ISTC is honored to have been part of an integrated solid waste plan that prioritizes resource conservation by utilizing data, understanding local realities and building on institutional successes to realize goals,” said Shantanu Pai, assistant sustainability researcher.

To help reach Northwestern’s goal of 50 percent diversion by 2020, learn what can be recycled on campus, participate in waste reduction efforts and understand your individual impact.

Illinois Researchers Take Novel Approach to Removing PPCPs from Water

When you dump expired cold syrup or rinse out an almost empty bottle of lotion into the sink, do you ever consider what chemicals are being introduced into the water supply?

The increase of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) entering public water systems was a problem that researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign challenged themselves to solve thanks to seed funding from the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE).

“PPCPs pose dangerous ecological and health effects on chronic exposure even if they are present in low concentrations,” said Dipanjan Pan, Associate Professor and the Director of Professional MS Program in Bioengineering. “We believe we have found a low-cost way to remove these harmful chemicals — and by making it biodegradable, we won’t be introducing any complications to wildlife.”

A team led by Pan collaborated with Wei Zheng, Senior Research Scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC, a Division of the Prairie Research Institute), and B.K. Sharma, Senior Research Engineer at ISTC, to develop a unique technology to alter the harmful chemicals introduced to water. The results of their study were recently published in Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Team members from Pan Laboratory created a “smart filter,” called a Pharmaceutical Nano-CarboScavenger (PNC), that efficiently and safely removes carbamazepine (found in medications treating a wide-range of physical and mental health issues), gemfibrozil (found in cholesterol medication), and triclocarban (an antibacterial agent found in soaps and lotions) from water. 

This filter is vastly different from your average water filter. It places activated charcoal and sand on top of the PNCs, which are carbon-filled cores made from agave. Water is allowed in, the activated charcoal removes heavy metals, the sand helps remove impurities and contaminants, and the PNCs scavenge through the water to remove the PPCP pollutants.

“A nanoengineered system that is based on an environmentally degradable system is a major and unmet need,” Zheng said. “The materials are derived from inexpensive natural sources and completely biodegradable, making this approach highly adaptable and environmentally friendly for mass processes.”

Other collaborators on the project: Indu Tripathi, former Postdoctoral Visiting Scholar in Bioengineering; Laurel K. Dodgen, former Illinois Postdoc and current Physical Scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior; Fatemeh Ostadhossein, M.S. and Ph.D. Candidate in Bioengineering; Santosh Misra, former iSEE Postdoctoral Researcher in Bioengineering; and Enrique Daza, a recent Bioengineering Ph.D. graduate and an M.B.A. Candidate from Pan’s lab.

Backed by iSEE funding, Pan’s Nano-CarboScavenger team also has explored remediating crude oil spills in water and had successes in the lab at clumping oil globules that could be scooped by a fine net — again, with the particles completely biodegradable and having no effect on wildlife if consumed. Pan and his team have also explored possible cancer treatments using nanoparticles.

Two new ISTC technical reports now available

ISTC has published two new technical reports. In Yet-to-emerge contaminants in the Great Lakes region: Analytical method development and measurement of concentrations in a Great Lakes fish, researchers developed a screening method to extract and analyze a group of ten persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) substances and applied those methods to measure the concentrations of those compounds in lake trout collected from Lake Michigan.

In Occurrence and Fate of the Herbicide Glyphosate in Tile Drainage and Receiving Rivers in East Central Illinois, researchers developed an analytical method to monitor the occurrence of the herbicide glyphosate and its metabolite, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), in tile drain water and receiving river water collected in east central Illinois agricultural lands. The developed method was then used to monitor glyphosate and AMPA in tile drainage and their receiving watersheds (e.g., the Spoon River and Salt Fork).  Additional data collected during this study are available in Woodword, et al (2019). “Fate and transport of nitrapyrin in agroecosystems: Occurrence in agricultural soils, subsurface drains, and receiving streams in the Midwestern US.” Science of The Total Environment 650(2), 2830-2841. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.09.387.

Illinois Sustainability Awards in the news

CLC wins state sustainability award, listing on two prestigious media outlets (Lake County News-Sun)

In recognition of its efforts to promote environmental sustainability, the College of Lake County recently has made the list of top two-year colleges in Sierra magazine and the Princeton Review. Additionally, CLC received Oct. 23 the Illinois Sustainability Award from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Smart Energy Design Assistance Center honored with Illinois Sustainability Award (University of Illinois News Bureau)

The Smart Energy Design Assistance Center at Illinois was among the 27 winners of the Illinois Sustainability Award. Since 2004, SEDAC has been reducing the energy footprint of the state of Illinois through design assistance, outreach, research and education. Housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, SEDAC is a public-private partnership with 360 Energy Group.

CU Mass Transit District wins award for sustainable practices (Daily Illini)

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District was awarded the Sustainability Award for environmentally sustainable practices for the second time in five years.

Village receives 2018 Illinois Sustainability Award (Village of Hoffman Estates)

The Village of Hoffman Estates was honored for its sustainability efforts on Oct. 23, along with twenty-six other Illinois companies and organizations. The state-wide Illinois Sustainability Awards were presented by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The winners were announced during a ceremony at the Union League Club in Chicago. The Village previously received the award in 2011 and received an honorable mention in 2014.

Nicor Gas Emerging Technology Program Receives Sustainability Award (Nicor Gas)

Nicor Gas’ Emerging Technology Program (ETP) is the recipient of the 2018 Illinois Sustainability Award for its efforts to implement innovative and sustainable technologies and its demonstrated commitment to sustaining environmental, social and economic health. The ETP, a part of energySMART, Nicor Gas’ energy efficiency program, assesses promising new technologies that have the potential to generate natural gas savings. It is the only gas ETP program of its kind in Illinois and the largest in the Midwest.

IFB honored for NLRS activities (FarmWeek)

Hundreds of field days, workshops and webinars educating tens of thousands of individuals about sustainability resulted in the recognition of Illinois Farm Bureau as a winner of the 2018 Sustainability Award. The award, given by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, honors IFB’s ongoing efforts to create awareness of, improve and implement environmental sustainability practices across the state.