Time to Spring Clean Your Medicine Cabinet – The Right Way

WRITTEN BY: Katherine Gardiner, ISTC staff

pile of pills

Is your medicine cabinet at home filled with old medications or prescription drugs you no longer use? You’re not alone.  But how do we dispose of these medicines safely?

Many Americans find themselves in the exact situation every year and either flush the pills down the toilet or hang onto them, unsure if they may be useful in the future.  However, the Illinois EPA warns against flushing drugs.They can get family lifestyle portrait of a mum and dad with their two kids and their dog having fun outdoorsinto the environment, harm wildlife and even pose challenges for drinking water treatment. And keeping medicines you no longer need can pose an unnecessary risk for accidental poisoning and abuse by children, teens, pets, and elderly, especially when stored in an easily accessible place like a family medicine cabinet or drawer.

In an interview with Environmental Leader, Walgreens’ senior vice president of pharmacy and healthcare, Rick Gates, acknowledged the growing concern over improper disposal and storage of medicines.

The best way to dispose of leftover and unwanted medications is to bring them to a medicine collection site. There are many located within Illinois, mostly in local law enforcement buildings.  Accepted items at permanent collection boxes include prescription medications, all over-the-counter (OTC) medications, pet medications, vitamins and supplements, medicated ointments, creams, lotions, and oils, and liquid medication stored in leak-proof containers.

After the medications are deposited in the drop boxes, they are taken to an incineration facility to be destroyed. This process is more environmentally safe than other disposal methods and is “highly regulated” by the EPA.

unwanted drug disposal bin inside lobby of police station in Champaign ILIn 2013, ISTC got involved in a new program within Champaign County to collect unwanted and old drugs. Goals of the program are to limit accidental poisonings of children and pets, prevent drug abuse, and reduce environmental impacts from improper disposal of medicines. Within Champaign-Urbana, you can now drop off unwanted medications at 3 locations – the police department lobbies in Champaign, Urbana, and on campus. These drop boxes are accessible 24 hours, seven days a week.

Walgreens and other pharmacies are also offering take-back programs to help their customers in the disposal process. Gates stated, “We’ve collected more than 155 tons of unwanted medication in first 18 months of the program, [which] goes to prove that there is a need in the marketplace.”

woman disposing of medicine at a one day collection eventTwice per year, the U.S. DEA participates in the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, with the goal to help Americans dispose of potentially harmful prescription drugs and, ultimately, to reduce addiction and overdose deaths related to opioids. During the event last October, Americans returned a record of 456 tons of unwanted medications to the DEA and their local partners. The next event will take place on April 28, 2018.

If neither a permanent drop box nor take-back event are available in your area, you can purchase postage-paid mail-back envelopes for medicine, which are now available at many pharmacies. You can also dispose of the medicine in the trash if you follow Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s recommended tips.

Medicines that have expired, changed color, or have a “funny” smell should not be used and should be taken to a medicine collection site.

Prescription and OTC drugs, along with most items in your medicine cabinet, are considered Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs). The U.S. EPA has identified PPCPs as emerging contaminants of concern because the extent of these contaminants’ impact on the environment is still unknown.

To help reduce impacts of PPCPs and other emerging contaminants on the environment, ISTC is co-organizing a conference on Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment, along with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The conference is June 5-6, 2018, and will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminants research, education, and policies. Registration opens in March. The call for oral presentation abstracts is open until March 12 and the poster presentations call is open until April 16.

As we continue to learn more about the effects of PPCPs in our environment, we should all do our part to ensure both safe use and safe disposal of medicines and other PPCPs.

ISTC will host the Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference at the U of I on June 5-6.

Green is the New Gold – Olympics Sustainability

WRITTEN BY: Katherine Gardiner, ISTC staff


olympic rings logoWhenever you think of sustainability, the Olympic Games, with all its grandeur and flashy ceremonies, probably is not the first event that comes to mind. All it takes is a second look, though, and you’ll see that sustainability is central to the Olympics.


This year, the Olympics are being held in PyeongChang, South Korea.  The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic Games (POCOG) has integrated sustainability into all stages of its Games – from construction of the venues, to the athletes’ and fans’ experiences and the legacy the Games will leave.


There are 92 countries and over 2,900 athletes participating in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, up from 88 nations in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. That is a lot of people and it is not even counting the enthusiastic fans pouring in from each nation.


It can be a challenge to host so many travelers at once, knowing they will only stay temporarily.  POCOG has managed this by constructing an Olympic Village to accommodate the athletes and coaches, and once the Games are over, the Village will be used as condominiums. All the condo units were sold  months before the Olympics even started, guaranteeing the Village will be in use long after the athletes have left the city.


The Olympic-sized stadiums have also been developed with green infrastructure and eventual repurposing in mind.  POCOG constructed all six new venues to conform to South Korea’s green energy certification standards, G-SEED. The venues utilize solar, wind, and geothermal energy and POCOG repurposed land previously used as a landfill to build the Ice Hockey Arena. After the Games, the arenas will be used for multipurpose sports complexes to accommodate professional athletic training as well as culture, leisure, and sports activities for the public.


POCOG’s sustainability report outlines a goal to go beyond “zero emissions” and accomplish “O2 Plus” effects through “low-carbon operations and resource circulation.”  As of September 2017, 1.33 million tons of greenhouse gases were reduced or offset.  To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mass transit transportation has been encouraged. Personal vehicles cannot enter the venues, which encourages fans to park off-site and ride the shuttle.  The high-speed railway was also built to connect Incheon International Airport in Seoul to the venues in PyeongChang and Gangneung. Staff will use electric cars and hydrogen-powered cars during the Games. As a result, charging stations have been installed, which POCOG hopes will encourage locals to use electric cars.


To further reduce carbon emissions, POCOG is locally sourcing much of their food and introducing an electronic meal voucher system for Olympic staff for the first time in Olympic history, with the intent to prepare exactly the amount of food needed and avoid food waste.


POCOG even accounted for stewardship of nature in their planning. A combined Men’s and Women’s alpine ski course has been implemented for the first time in the Winter Olympics to reduce estimated forest impact. Plants, seeds, and topsoil have been collected to assist in the restoration process post-Games, and 174 hectares of forest have been pledged to be restored. A project to repopulate endangered species in the area has been implemented to maintain biodiversity, and nine additional forests have been designated as protected since 2013.


The PyeongChang Olympics was awarded ISO 20121 certification to recognize its work system that “minimizes burden on local communities while maximizing positive impacts,” marking a first for the Winter Olympics and third for Olympic Games after London 2012 and Rio 2016.


olympic gold metal with white backgroundThe International Olympic Committee (IOC) has aligned itself with POCOG’s vision for a sustainable Olympics. Olympic Agenda 2020 is made up of three pillars – credibility, youth, and sustainability.  In fact, the field of sports was officially recognized as an “important enabler” of sustainable development by the United Nations in 2015 and is included in the UN’s Agenda 2030.


While South Korea doesn’t know its final medal count yet, PyeongChang has definitely earned gold in being green.

Symposium to explore solutions to plastic recycling in Illinois

Written by Jim Dexter

multi colored plastic beads


Ideas for “Revitalizing Plastics Recycling” will be the topic for a symposium hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the I Hotel and Conference Center on the University of Illinois campus from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12.


Plastic production has risen steeply decade upon decade in the United States, primarily for use in packaging, and as a cheap, tough, lightweight substitute for glass and metal.


Ironically glass and metal are far more economical to recycle, so used plastic has come to blight the environment. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that the U.S. recycled only nine percent of its post-consumer plastic in 2012. The program also reports that up to 43 percent of waste plastic finds its way into landfills. That leaves a lot of plastic unaccounted for.


Factors that make plastic easy or hard to recycle depends largely on logistics in the local recycling market, according to B.K. Sharma, senior research scientist at ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute, and one of the presenters at the symposium.


Take polyethylene, for instance, which comes in two varieties – high density or low density, according to Sharma. If it is extruded (as in disposable drink bottles) it can usually be economically crushed, handled, and transported. If polyethylene products are molded they are typically too dense and/or brittle for a recycler to profitably manipulate. Expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) is another example of a hard-to-recycle plastic. All volume and no weight, it is expensive to transport and few communities today offer opportunities to recycle it, Sharma explained.


Ken Santowski’s Chicago Logistic Service has been working to provide Styrofoam recycling to citizens of the greater Chicago area. He will speak at the symposium of his company’s success in dealing with that necessary evil.


The symposium will also deal with another scourge of plastic recycling – agricultural plastics. It wraps bales, covers forage, bags silage, covers silo bunkers, and makes farmers more productive in many ways. But once used it doesn’t all go easily into dumpsters and is too lightweight to make much economic sense to conventional recyclers. Tanner Smith, corporate development analyst for Delta Plastics, will discuss dealing with agricultural plastics at the symposium.


Sharma’s lab has approached the problem from a different angle. He has demonstrated how petroleum-derived polymers can be “reverse engineered” right back into gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel. He has also shown how high-value “fractions” can be recovered from trash that might have ended up in landfills. He will be giving a demonstration at the symposium of the technology which can be used to convert plastics to oil.


The symposium will bring together experts on different aspects of the problem and share solutions on how to improve Illinois’ experience and record of plastic recycling. To register, and for more information about the symposium visit the Illinois Recycling Association’s website.


Illinois Sustainable Technology Center logo

Illinois Recycling Association logo

Upcoming Environmental Conference

Biologists testing water of natural river

Rising concerns among environmental scientists over a multitude of contaminants found in water and aquatic life and their impact on human health have prompted ISTC to partner with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to host an upcoming conference titled, “Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment.” The two-day conference will be packed with many experts, including four keynote presentations by researchers from the U.S.EPA, Loyola University Chicago, USGS, and the National Sea Grant Law Center. The oral presentations will cover a variety of viewpoints, namely research, policy, and education & outreach.


Contaminants of emerging concern, as defined by the USGS, are

“…any synthetic or naturally occurring chemical or any microorganism that is not commonly monitored in the environment but has the potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological and (or) human health effects.”


In some cases, a contaminant could have been entering the environment for decades or centuries but only recently has been detected or environmental impacts been attributed to that compound. Some of the contaminants that will be discussed at the conference include pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter medicines, personal care products, agrichemicals, microplastics, coal-tar sealants, flame retardants, and many more.


Government leaders, policy makers, public health professionals, researchers, environmental organizations, educators, students, and members of the public are all encouraged to attend the conference. It will provide an opportunity for discussion and collaboration with those from a wide range of fields in research, policy, and education & outreach. The conference will be held from May 31 to June 1, 2017, at the I Hotel & Conference Center in Champaign, IL.

Visit the website to find out more information, meet the keynote speakers, register for the conference, or submit a poster abstract on your work.

Emerging Contaminants in Our Aquatic Environments

pill bottle spilling out pills with one big pill colored with the pattern of earth's suface specifically north americaAmericans landfilled 136 million tons of material in 2014. Food, plastics, and in fact, most of what was landfilled could have been recycled or composted. Of particular concern is the more than four percent of waste classified as ‘other,’ which includes pharmaceuticals and personal-care products.


A recent article, “Pharmaceuticals and Other Chemicals Common in Landfill Waste,” brings light to the fact that rain water filtering through a landfill picks up chemicals and exits the landfill as ‘leachate.’ While treatment of the leachate and NPDES permitting is required, questions about how these chemicals affect the environment still remain.


The USGS sampled 19 landfill leachates before treatment and found 129 different pharmaceutical (prescription and non-prescription), household, and industrial chemicals. The three chemicals detected in 95 percent of the samples were bisphenol A (used in plastics, thermal paper, and epoxy resins; 4 parts per million), DEET (insect repellent; 250 parts per billion), and cotinine (transformation product of nicotine; 50 parts per billion).


In order to help address some of these questions and many more, ISTC is partnering with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) to host the “Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference” on May 31 and June 1, 2017, in Champaign, IL. Conference registration will begin in mid-February. Topics will include research, policy, management, outreach, and education concerning emerging contaminant detection, fate, transport, remediation, prevention, or related areas.



America Recycles Day – November 15

shows the continetal 48 states with map markers pointing to thousands of recycling events


I Recycle, where the recycle is the recycle symbol and not the word; America Recycles Day November 15While recycling is not mandatory in America, over 30 percent of our trash is recycled. But recycling could be as high as 75 percent, which could dramatically impact other environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater resources, and create economic growth.


America Recycles Day was created on Nov. 15, 1997, by the National Recycling Coalition and is now organized by Keep America Beautiful. America Recycles Day is dedicated to raising the awareness of recycling and products made from recycled materials. Over 1,800 events recycling events have been registered in 2016 alone. Events range from awareness/education to collection of specific items (batteries, household hazardous waste, electronics) to even college/university sporting events. You can attend or organize an event in your area. Simple steps can be found on the America Recycles Day website.


Illinois has four upcoming events to celebrate America Recycles Day including “America Recycles Day – It’s Electric!” on Nov. 19 in Urbana, Ill. Be on the look-out for more info on this event and other similar opportunities such as ISTC’s Illini Gadget Garage. This campus program reduces technology trash by empowering people to fix their own electronics, extending their useful life, with a do-it-yourself approach.




image showing locations in Illinois hosting recycle day events

DOE Sparks Science Learning with New Newsletter

STEM Spark newsletter header reads: S T E M Spark U.S. Department of Energy Energy Education News - August 2016 This Issue: Wind Energy - Next Issue: Solar Energy. header has green background with white lettering except for STEM and the word spark has gold dashes in a ray coming off the top of the letter k in the word Spark.


DOE has produced a new resource to help cultivate the next generation of science and environmental experts. The first in a new science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education monthly newsletter from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is all about wind energy.  Topics include:

  • Wind Energy Overview
  • How Does a Wind Turbine Work?
  • Learn How to Build a Wind Turbine Model
  • Offshore Wind Buoy Tour of “Open Hatch” Vessel
  • And much more about wind energy!

Regular sections in the newsletter include:

  • Student contests through the DOE
  • Classroom activities on the newsletter topic
  • Career resources
  • Upcoming DOE events

The newsletter is free to subscribe to and only requires a valid email address. This newsletter is made possible by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).


The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) at the University of Illinois, of which ISTC is a division of, also does its part to nurture science talent in our schools. Recently PRI organized a website where its diverse mix of scientists and researchers discussed how they prepared for success in green science careers. They also share their thoughts about the prospects for green jobs in the future.



Sustainability Seminar Series Fall 2016: Contaminants in the Environment

The ISTC Sustainability Seminar Series continues on Thursdays this fall with the theme “Contaminants in the Environment.” The schedule of seminar speakers is below. To be added to the seminar and events email list or to receive links to the live broadcasts of the seminars, please contact Beth Meschewski at elm2@illinois.edu.


All seminars will be held at ISTC (1 E. Hazelwood Dr. in Champaign) in the SJW Conference Room. The series is an opportunity to share information and discussion with peers in a relaxed, informal environment. Please feel free to bring a lunch. Seminars usually last about an hour and questions are welcome. The seminars will be broadcast live and will also be recorded and archived on the ISTC website: www.istc.illinois.edu.   Continue reading “Sustainability Seminar Series Fall 2016: Contaminants in the Environment”

U.S. Army Lab Engineer Spending Fruitful Year Collaborating with Illinois Peers

Steve Cosper standing in front of pull up banners that read Energy, Water, Reuse of Materials, Contamin. each banner has an image related to its word


Steve Cosper is in the middle of a busy sabbatical year collaborating with Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) researchers on a range of projects of mutual benefit spanning energy, water, and waste issues. It is the latest highlight of a closer relationship between the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) and the Army’s major research center in Champaign.


ERDC Innovative Solutions for a safer, better world

logo for US Armey Corp of Engineers white fort type castle on red backgroundThe Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), a division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), has paired with ISTC on several research projects over the years but it wasn’t until about two years ago with the arrival of ISTC’s current director, Kevin O’Brien that the relationship deepened.


Last week, Cosper and ISTC Research Scientist Lance Schideman were invited to participate in workshop on water/wastewater and solid waste management at the National Defense University in Washington DC. The Department of Defense (DOD)-United Nations Technology Workshop was organized in response to a Presidential guidance to the Defense Department to support UN Peacekeeping operations around the world with DOD experience to enhance their effectiveness and environmental impacts.

Continue reading “U.S. Army Lab Engineer Spending Fruitful Year Collaborating with Illinois Peers”

Discover Smart Irrigation in U.S. EPA WaterSense Webinar

United States Environmental Protection Agency's Water Sense logoIn this high tech world we still have some low tech ways to control automated services such as irrigation. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program has teamed with the Alliance for Water Efficiency to bring you a webinar on new WaterSense labeled weather-based irrigation controls that use smart tech to optimize irrigation and water savings. Register for the September 15th smart irrigation webinar.


As a WaterSense partner, ISTC encourages the public to conserve water in a number of ways including our One Billion Gallon Water Challenge. You can pledge to save water today! Our Challenge also sponsored six water conservation efforts at businesses, cities, and colleges/universities in 2014-2015 that saved Illinois over 70 million gallons of water.


ISTC also helps Illinois businesses, manufacturers, government agencies, and organizations conserve water via our technical assistance program. ISTC has recently helped Illinoisans save over 45 million gallons though process efficiency and retrofits.