ISTC Technical Assistance Program collaborates with Forest Preserves of Cook County on Clean Energy Framework

Forest Preserves of Cook County Clean Energy Framework cover

ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserves) have a history of working together to improve sustainability. In 2014, the Forest Preserves, a public agency responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas and public open space, engaged TAP to evaluate the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the Forest Preserves a national leader, among similar organizations, in waste reduction practices. The success of that project led the Forest Preserves to engage TAP to assist in developing and implementing their Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan, which was released in September 2018. That plan hinged upon an overall goal to reduce the Forest Preserves’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2016 baseline. It also identified a road map for Forest Preserve lands to be resilient in a changing climate, recognizing that such conditions will significantly impact land management operations as the range and distribution of species shift, along with the availability of water and other key aspects of the local ecosystem.

On January 22, 2019, in response to a United Nations International Panel on Climate Change report, which demonstrated that the consequences of man-made climate change will become irreversible in 12 years if global carbon emissions are not immediately and dramatically reduced, the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Net Zero Resolution. This resolution revised the 80% GHG emissions reduction goal to net-zero by 2050, as well as reducing facility GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and committing to the development of a renewable energy plan. 

TAP is currently working with the Forest Preserves on updating their Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan accordingly, while simultaneously assisting with the implementation of previously identified objectives and strategies to achieve their ambitious GHG reduction goals.

The most recent result of this collaboration is the development of a Clean Energy Framework, modeled after the Cook County Energy Plan. The Forest Preserves of Cook County Clean Energy Framework documents existing conditions through a needs assessment and review of current initiatives. Further, it prioritizes renewable energy technologies and strategies which the Forest Preserves might employ and creates a roadmap to achieving the Forest Preserves’ 2030 and 2050 goals. A Net Zero Emissions implementation schedule is presented, and the relationships between the Clean Energy Framework objectives and the objectives of the broader Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan are outlined.

Within the Framework it is noted that to actualize the goals and strategies outlined, energy conservation and efficiency of the many existing facilities must be prioritized and continuously pursued to reduce the existing operational footprint of the Forest Preserves. On a parallel course, the concept of green building must be thoroughly explored, redefined, and codified to embody building operations, ecosystem services, and renewable energy generation, fully encompassing the Preserves’ values of environmental stewardship and fostering human well-being in any building upgrade or new building project. Simultaneously, the Forest Preserves must aggressively pursue vetting, selecting and ongoing implementation of on-site renewable energy systems, coupled with collaborative pursuit, in partnership with Cook County, of a large-scale renewable energy installation, and sourcing of RECs to account for any emissions balances.

Principal authors of the Framework include Anthony D. Tindall, Policy & Sustainability Manager of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, along with April Janssen Mahajan, Joy Scrogum, Savannah Feher, and Shantanu Pai of TAP. Jennifer Martin of TAP was also among the advisors for the report.

The Clean Energy Framework was finalized in May 2021 and adopted by the Forest Preserves’ Board of Commissioners in June 2021. The Framework is available for download at https://fpdcc.com/downloads/plans/FPCC-Clean-Energy-Framework-071221.pdf.

For more information on the ISTC Technical Assistance Program, see http://go.illinois.edu/techassist.

 

Materials Management Advisory Committee (MMAC) sends report to IL General Assembly

MMAC report cover

In July 2019, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 3068, which created the Statewide Materials Management Advisory Committee (MMAC). Coordinated by the Illinois EPA and comprised of a wide variety of recycling, composting, materials management, and solid waste professionals, the Committee was charged with investigating current recycling and solid waste practices and recommending options to the Illinois General Assembly to divert wastes from Illinois landfills. These recommendations were also meant to include improvements to form and contents of county waste management plan required by Illinois law.

Shantanu Pai of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) served as co-chair (along with Suzanne Boring of the Illinois EPA) for the MMAC Measurement Subcommittee, the primary purpose of which was to identify, capture, and evaluate existing data reflecting the state of waste and materials management in Illinois in 2018, the base year for the reported data. Using those data, the Measurement Subcommittee was tasked with developing a matrix reflecting the environmental impacts of diverting specific materials from landfills and relaying that information to the entire Committee. Additional subcommittees existed for education and outreach, infrastructure development, market development, and local government support.

Though not official members of the MMAC or its subcommittees, TAP staff members Savannah Feher, April Janssen Mahajan, and Joy Scrogum provided support to the measurement subcommittee and to the overall efforts of the MMAC and Illinois EPA coordinating team for achievement of the MMAC goals.

The overall MMAC findings, along with the associated recommendations from various subcommittees, were compiled in report form and submitted to the 102nd General Assembly on July 1, 2021. Key recommendations include:

  • Establishing statewide landfill diversion targets of 40% by 2025, 45% by 2030, and 50% by 2035 (current rate is 37%);
  • Employing a stratified approach to strategically target materials for diversion from Illinois landfills;
  • Increasing the statewide support from existing funding and without additional revenue for materials management programs by as much as $3.375 million per State Fiscal Year by State Fiscal Year 2027;
  • Creating a Statewide Market Development Advisory Board to review and approve viable public and private sector diversion projects to receive state support;
  • Appropriating funding to support the statewide recycling and composting infrastructure grant programs;
  • Enhancing the level of state support for household hazardous waste collections;
  • Developing and continuing to support a statewide materials management education campaign;
  • Developing sophisticated data management systems within state government to track and map landfill diversion opportunities available to the public; and
  • Adopting a consistent and simplified statewide approach to local government solid waste and materials management planning and reporting.

These items, including information related to the votes to adopt the recommendations, are discussed in greater detail in the full MMAC report. Copies of the formal recommendations are included in Attachment C of the report.

The full report, along with the full roster of MMAC membership, minutes from committee and subcommittee meetings, and other relevant resources are available for download at https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/waste-management/materials-management/Pages/Materials-Management-Advisory-Committee.aspx.

Monitor the Illinois General Assembly website and the Illinois EPA Materials Management pages for future updates. See also the recorded Illinois Recycling Association/Illinois Recycling Foundation webinar from April 2021 in which provided an overview of the MMAC draft recommendations at that time.

ISTC Technical Assistance Program launches new webpages

TAP homepage

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has a new web presence. You may now find information on TAP at https://go.illinois.edu/techassist.

TAP makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science, and government to help organizations achieve profitable, sustainable results.

The new website makes it easier to find information on TAP programs, services, and projects. Visitors can sign up for free site visits or learn about fee-for-service opportunities to engage our sustainability experts. Any Illinois organization, business, manufacturing facility, institute of higher learning, government entity, public utility, or institution may request one free site visit (per location) at no cost to the facility.

General inquiries may be addressed to istc-info@illinois.edu. You may also reach out to specific TAP team members for assistance in their areas of expertise.

Farm to Food Bank Survey Deadline Extended, Focus Groups Planned

Graphic encouraging IL farmers to complete an online survey by March 30, 2021

In a previous post, we described a collaborative feasibility study being conducted by ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau, to collect information on locations, types, and quantities of surplus food in Illinois. Through a producer survey, a series of focus groups, and implementation of pilots across the state, the team looks to uncover the optimal mix of incentives and program interventions to overcome the current barriers to efficient flows of fresh food produced in Illinois, to Illinois residents, with as little waste as possible. The goal is to identify opportunities to develop a statewide farm to food bank program that will address food insecurity and food waste.

Graphic representation of the study elements, as described in the text of the blog post

To help with this effort, farmers from every region of Illinois are encouraged to complete an online survey at go.illinois.edu/farm2foodbanksurvey. The survey will remain open (responses accepted) until a target number of responses have been received to ensure a robust sample size. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

Participants are also being recruited for a series of virtual focus groups. The focus groups will be crafted to gather input from all regions of the state, as well as perspectives from underserved farmers. Participants will include producers, representatives of hunger relief agencies, and food distributors. Input from focus groups will supplement, validate, and contextualize the information gathered through the survey. This will also provide TAP the opportunity to gauge feasibility, interest, and barriers to implementing and participating in a farm to food bank project among producers.

The online producer survey offers respondents the opportunity to indicate their interest in focus group participation. Individuals can also contact the ISTC Technical Assistance Program to indicate interest in the focus groups, for additional information on the study, or for assistance with completion of the producer survey.

Graphic representation of the three data compilation elements, as described in the post text

Technical Assistance Program collaborates to connect surplus food with hunger relief agencies

The University of Illinois, Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau are collaborating to collect and collate information on the locations, types, and quantities of “surplus” specialty crops in Illinois, including potential acquisition costs. Through a producer survey, a series of focus groups, and implementation of pilots across the state the team looks to uncover the optimal mix of incentives and program interventions to overcome the current barriers to efficient flows of fresh food produced in Illinois, to Illinois residents, with as little waste as possible.

Wasted Food = Wasted Resources + Wasted Dollars + Wasted Nutrition

According to the second edition of the Natural Resources Defense Council report Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill, roughly two-fifths of the food we produce in our country goes uneaten for a variety of reasons, based on losses in the production, processing, distribution, and consumption stages of our food system. Beyond the food itself, this reality represents a huge loss of the resources invested in our nation’s food production–“food and agriculture consume up to 16 percent of US energy, almost half of all US land and account for 67 percent of the nation’s freshwater use.”

Image of NRDC "Wasted" report cover with a photo of a watermelon with a wedge removed.The loss is economic as well as environmental. NRDC estimates that over 400 pounds of food are wasted per person annually in the US, equivalent to “a loss of up to $218 billion each year, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually.”

The situation is made all the more tragic when considering that Feeding America estimated 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food in 2018. “Food insecurity” refers to a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

In 2018, 1,283,550 people experienced food insecurity in Illinois.

Global Pandemic Makes a Bad Situation Worse

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the issues of food waste and hunger have become even more pronounced. In the wake of unemployment, medical bills and other unforeseen costs, many people have struggled to make ends meet. Simultaneously, our food supply chain scrambled to pivot to a world in which institutions and businesses involved with food service or food retail shut down as part of efforts to slow the spread of disease. As an example of the challenges this presented, some perishable goods like milk or meat may be produced and packaged in bulk specifically for large-scale customers such as restaurants. So, when those customers suddenly no longer exert their typical demands on the system, large quantities of commodities may spoil if new customers can’t be identified to absorb the available supply, or if the means for alternative packaging or distribution cannot be quickly realized. News reports featured stories of commodities without outlets being dumped or livestock euthanized and record-long lines at food banks. Feeding America estimates that due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 50 million people may experience food insecurity, including a potential 17 million children.

Farm to Food Bank Programs as Viable Solutions

Decreasing waste and increasing nutritional access are being addressed across the nation in various ways. One strategy for addressing these issues simultaneously is through Farm to Food Bank programs. “Farm to Food Bank” projects are defined in the Code of Federal Regulations [ at 7 CFR 251.10(j)] as “the harvesting, processing, packaging, or transportation of unharvested, unprocessed, or unpackaged commodities donated by agricultural producers, processors, or distributors for use by Emergency Feeding Organizations (EFOs)”–i.e., hunger relief agencies. Some existed long before pandemic-related restrictions rocked the nation’s food systems, since it is not uncommon for farmers to donate their surpluses to local hunger relief agencies. Existing programs have had to work hard to keep up with increased demand during the pandemic and expand where possible. Several new farm to food bank programs have been created over the past year in direct response to pandemic-related systemic pressures, as highlighted in a recent article for Civil Eats by Lynne Curry. Many of these are notable because they use donated funds to pay farmers fair market prices for commodities that would otherwise be wasted, or to cover other economic barriers to surplus redistribution (e.g. labor or transportation costs), creating interim markets as a stopgap response to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

One such program, The Farmlink Project, was launched in April 2020 by college students in response to the struggling they witnessed in their home communities after returning from their shut-down campuses. The project uses donated funds to pay for the packing of farm surplus and delivery to food distribution sites. Databases of interested farmers and nearby food banks are being built to enable efficient connections. Partnership with Food Finders, a food rescue organization, and Uber Freight allows logistical hurdles to be addressed by those with appropriate expertise. In the organization’s short life it has grown to involve more than 100 college and university students from across the country, serving all but five of the fifty United States, and has delivered over 22,000,000 pounds of food, according to the project website.

In New Mexico, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization, began its Farm to Food Bank Project at the start of the pandemic, and reported in December 2020 that it had provided “more than 12,000 pounds of local, fresh produce–reaching thousands of community members in need.” AFSC uses donations to purchase “organic produce from 25 sustainable farms and distribute that food to Roadrunner Food Bank—the state’s largest food bank—as well as five shelters and food pantries that serve people who are homeless, domestic violence survivors, seniors, and immigrants.” They additionally supply “farmers with seeds and other farming materials, as well as safety items like face masks and gloves. In return, farms are providing a portion of the food they grow to local relief agencies.”

Some long-running programs have integrated various ways to address economic barriers for farmers. Operating since 2005, the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) Farm to Family program offers a “pick and pack” fee to farmers to help mitigate harvesting and packaging costs. CAFB handles the logistics, transporting surplus food from farms to food banks throughout the state for redistribution. Participating farmers are also eligible for a 15% state tax credit.

With these and many other examples elsewhere in the nation, various stakeholders in Illinois are considering what lessons can be learned to determine how the farm to food bank concept could be applied to circumstances within our state.

Stakeholders Collaborate to Improve Food Security in Illinois

Even before the pandemic began, Illinois stakeholders were considering how to ensure more food would reach those in need through farm to food bank strategies. In early 2020, staff from Feeding Illinois and the Illinois Farm Bureau began discussions related to expansion of programs and opportunities for moving surplus food commodities to hunger relief agencies throughout the state. These agencies reached out to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to discuss the types of data and analyses needed to support such efforts. Plans began for a feasibility study, involving collaboration with the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, to expand and improve farm to food bank commodity flows. The study kicked off with a survey of participants at the annual Illinois Specialty Crops Conference in January 2021.

The overall outcomes of this project are being realized by meaningful collaboration between over two dozen organizations across Illinois. The feasibility study is being led by Feeding Illinois with support from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the Illinois Farm Bureau, and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. ISTC’s TAP is spearheading data collection and analysis, as well as final report preparation.

Logos of Feeding Illinois, the IL Farm Bureau, the Specialty Crop Growers Association and the Prairie Research Institute

Project Objectives

The feasibility study will involve collection and collation of information on the locations, types, and quantities of “surplus” specialty crops in Illinois, including potential acquisition costs. Objectives include:

  • Provide producers with additional end markets for commodities
  • Identify the quantity and quality of surplus food in Illinois
  • Expand supply of fresh food to food banks
  • Increase food security
  • Reduce food loss and foster a statewide circular economy
  • Establish a sustainable farm to food bank program in Illinois

Study Components

In order to evaluate and devise effective strategies for expansion of farm to food bank programs within Illinois, the study team is evaluating what has worked as part of such programs in other states. Project staff are reviewing and reaching out to similar programs nationwide to compile best practices, key challenges, pinch points where material flows may slow down or stop due to a variety of factors, performance indicators, and key stakeholders to include in strategic planning.

Graphic representation of the study elements, as described in the text of the blog post

Simultaneously, the project team is taking a three-pronged approach to compile the data necessary to develop and assess the feasibility of strategies for a statewide farm to food bank program in Illinois.

Graphic representation of the three data compilation elements, as described in the post textThe first step is collecting feedback from Illinois producers on current conditions, challenges, opportunities, and past experiences via the aforementioned online survey, which was launched during a session presented at the virtual 2021 Illinois Specialty Crop Conference that took place in January. Conference attendees were encouraged to complete the survey during the conference and will receive electronic reminders from session coordinators. It includes questions on current practices, market channels, market alternatives, product marketability, and the farm-to-food-banks experience from the producer perspective. The survey will be open to Illinois producers until March 15th.

Additionally, virtual focus groups including producers, representatives of hunger relief agencies, and food distributors will be held, to supplement, validate, and contextualize the information gathered through the surveys. This will also provide TAP the opportunity to gauge feasibility, interest, and barriers to implementing and participating in a farm to food bank project among producers.

Survey respondents and focus group participants will have the opportunity to indicate interest in participating in future pilot studies of any new farm-to-food-bank strategies to address food insecurity identified as part of this overall feasibility study.

Finally, TAP will synthesize the findings from the surveys and focus groups to estimate the statewide supply of food commodities not currently entering the market. TAP will prepare a final report–essentially a roadmap for a statewide farm to food bank program–outlining the opportunity and feasibility (including both logistical and economic considerations) of implementing various farm to food bank project scenarios. The report will be made available online to inform Illinois producers and other stakeholders, and to assist with similar efforts in other states.

Participate

Illinois producers can support these efforts by completing our survey. It takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. If you prefer,  request to have a a hard copy of the survey mailed to you by contacting ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program.

For additional information, assistance with survey completion, or to express interest in participating in the forthcoming focus groups, please contact the ISTC Technical Assistance Program.

Learn More

UIC releases Sustainable Materials Management Plan developed with ISTC

Document cover, saying "Sustainable Materials Management Plan," along with the UIC logo and a photo of trash arranged to form the logo.The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) recently released a Sustainable Materials Management Plan, a concrete step in the university’s goal to become a Zero Waste Campus.

During the past academic year, 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 the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program 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.

UIC’s Waste Characterization Study

The waste characterization study included more than 3,300 pounds of trash from 14 buildings and outdoor campus collection bins sorted into 32 Multiple bins and buckets, each containing a different type of waste identified in the waste auditmaterial 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.

UIC’s Sustainable Materials Management Plan

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.”

ISTC provides technical assistance from a distance

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) at the University of Illinois makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science and government to help clients achieve profitable, sustainable results.

In service to the State of Illinois, ISTC provides all Illinois organizations, businesses, manufacturing facilities, institutions and governments the opportunity for one free site visit and sustainability assessment from TAP. However, in light of the Governor’s stay-at-home order and restrictions on non-essential travel for University personnel as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, TAP staff members are currently not conducting in-person site visits.

But this does not mean that we are not still here to serve you. Our staff members are working remotely, and are available to help your business or community with:

  • Answers to questions related to waste reduction, water and energy efficiency and conservation
  • Guidance on institutional water treatment, particularly given recent changes to building use patterns
  • Greening your supply chain
  • Sustainability visioning, goal setting, planning and communication with stakeholders
  • Information on alternative technologies and processes to reduce resource consumption, hazardous material use, and emissions
  • General recommendations for process improvement, which can increase your productivity while reducing your negative environmental footprint

Learn more about TAP services and impacts on the ISTC web site. If you are interested in scheduling a site visit in the future, when travel restrictions have been lifted, fill out our form to request a site visit.  Questions can also be directed to istc-info@illinois.edu, to receive immediate assistance.

Subscribe to our monthly e-mail newsletter on sustainability for food and beverage manufacturers at https://groups.webservices.illinois.edu/subscribe/115948.

You can also keep up to date on TAP projects and services, case studies, and guidance by subscribing to the ISTC blog (look for the “subscribe” box for email input on the main blog page) or exploring the blog’s Technical Assistance category. Our web site also provides a list of fact sheets, case studies and other publications which may provide inspiration for your efforts. In the coming months, TAP will also be developing a new web site to more fully describe recent projects, successes, and services; this will be linked to directly from the main ISTC web site. Be on the lookout for it!

Finally, on April 9th, at 12 PM Central, we invite you to join us for a webinar, Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) Festival Footprint: Going Zero Waste. Learn more and register at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/4557515682919003659. If it inspires you to pursue zero waste at your facility or in your community, we’d love to discuss opportunities and ideas with you! Reach out to our zero waste team at istc-zerowaste@illinois.edu.  If you want to receive notifications of future webinars from ISTC, you can sign up at https://groups.webservices.illinois.edu/subscribe/53516.

Stay safe and know that we are here to support your organization’s sustainability efforts during this difficult time.

Technical Assistance Program helps UI Facilities & Services improve recycling collection

History and context

In 2008, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, becoming part of a network of institutions of higher education committed to campus carbon neutrality by the year 2050. UI developed an Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) as a roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. The iCAP identifies relevant goals, objectives, and potential strategies in the following categories: energy conservation and building standards; energy generation, purchasing, and distribution; transportation; water and stormwater; purchasing, waste, and recycling; agriculture, land use, food, and sequestration; carbon offsets; financing; education; outreach; and research.

Cover of 2015 Illinois Climate Action PlanSince the development of the iCAP, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has worked with UI Facilities and Services (F&S) on multiple projects to facilitate achievement of a 45% campus waste diversion target by 2020, as part of the overarching campus carbon neutrality efforts. In 2014 and 2015, TAP gathered baseline data on the types and magnitude of waste generated on campus and identified opportunities for waste reduction, diversion, and improvement of material collection. The results of those efforts can be found in the 2014 Baseline Waste Characterization Study and the 2015 Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment. An educational project coincided with the second phase of this waste characterization effort, in which TAP staff guided UI students in the creation of a sculpture crafted from materials from the campus waste stream. The sculpture, along with campus waste characterization data and facts related to waste generation and management in the US, were displayed at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts during Earth Week in 2016, to raise awareness about campus materials management. In 2015, TAP also collaborated with F&S to retrofit existing refuse containers located on the main Quad, creating combined waste and recycling stations in an effort to improve capture of recyclable materials.

TAP has since collaborated with campus Waste Transfer Station (WTS) staff to increase diversion rates across campus, as well as improve the efficiency of current waste management operations. Key components of this collaboration have included the development of a streamlined materials tracking system, as well as analysis of material flows through and from campus buildings to the WTS, to identify opportunities for process improvement.

In 2018, TAP worked with F&S staff to digitize collection truck weight tickets and create a new online tracking portal. 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.

Recent efforts to improve collection of recyclables

In 2019, ISTC and WTS staff began an analysis of collection practices within buildings with the explicit intent to increase the capture of source-separated recyclables. TAP staff shadowed building service staff to identify current practices and opportunities for improvement. The processes for handling waste and recyclables for typical academic and residential buildings were mapped out, including movement of waste materials from the building to dumpsters, and ultimately to the WTS. TAP staff also worked with F&S to document (in terms of current deployment and unused inventory) the number and variety of landfill and recyclable collection bins found in buildings across campus.

Examples of the variety in size, color and signage of older collection bins on campus.
Examples of previous generations of bins and associated signage found on campus.

This information allowed TAP to make various recommendations to UI F&S related to:

  • building construction and renovation standards for recycling space allocation;
  • collection container allocation, placement, and related training for Building Service Workers (BSW);
  • updating collection containers to improve clarity and consistency across campus;
  • improved signage for clarity and consistent messaging;
  • use of bin liners and existing dumpsters to streamline material flows to, and separation at, the WTS; and
  • a campus-wide recycling campaign.

TAP is currently working with F&S on implementation of these recommendations. At the end of 2019, new collection containers were identified which would collocate landfill (trash) bins and bins for the two types of recycling streams on campus—mixed paper and aluminum cans plus bottles. The new collections containers use color-coding to distinguish the different streams—black for landfill, green for the mixed paper stream, and blue for the combined aluminum cans and bottles. Matching directional signage featuring pictures of example materials appropriate for each waste stream attaches to the back of the bins to assist with proper source separation. A URL for more information on campus recycling is also prominent on the bin signs. Images on the container access doors (for emptying the bins) reinforce proper placement of materials. The containers are themselves constructed from at least 1000 recycled plastic milk jugs, reinforcing the importance of not only recycling but  “closing the loop” by using products made from recycled materials.

New collection bin station with sections for landfill, mixed paper, and aluminum cans plus bottles
New collection containers being deployed on UI campus.

105 containers have been deployed over 30 buildings, beginning primarily in first-floor hallways. Additional containers are being obtained and deployed to locations keeping factors such as building occupancy and status of currently existing collection infrastructure in mind. F&S sees the deployment of the new containers as a key factor in raising awareness of recycling opportunities and processes on campus, as well as combating persistent misconceptions about campus recycling practices.

The new collection containers and implementation of other recommendations made by ISTC’s TAP not only foster achievement of campus iCAP goals but also relate to the recently released F&S Strategic Plan 2019-2023, which includes key performance indicators for diverting waste from landfill in its “Lead in Energy Management and Sustainability” section.

For further information

Mud to Parks project reuses lost soil from lakes and rivers

This is the first post in ISTC Impact, an occasional series highlighting the effect of some of ISTC’s long-running projects on the environment and economy of the state, region, and nation.

With one fresh idea and buy-in from state politicians and organizations, researchers in the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) found a way to address the growing river sedimentation problem in Illinois, while also restoring waterways and habitat and moving healthy topsoil into cities.

The ISTC Mud to Parks project developed a blueprint for successfully recapturing one of Illinois’ finest resources: its soil.

“Soil is more valuable than oil,” said John Marlin, ISTC research affiliate, who originated the Mud to Parks idea and directed the project. “Yet we are treating soil today like it’s an unlimited resource, even as it erodes away.”

A crane removes sediment from Lower Peoria Lake during spring 2004. The dredging deepened a recreational boat channel at East Peoria. Care was taken to minimize water to reduce shipping costs. The barges traveled 165 miles to Chicago and were unloaded into trucks at the old US Steel South Works site.
A crane removes sediment from Lower Peoria Lake during spring 2004. The dredging deepened a recreational boat channel at East Peoria. Care was taken to minimize water to reduce shipping costs. The barges traveled 165 miles to Chicago and were unloaded into trucks at the old US Steel South Works site.

 

 

Trucks place the dredged material on a slag covered field that had no topsoil. It was spread to dry and temporarily seeded with grass.
Trucks place the dredged material on a slag covered field that had no topsoil. It was spread to dry and temporarily seeded with grass.

Soil from rural and urban areas washes into rivers and accumulates in backwaters and behind dams. Water levels in backwaters and side channels are becoming shallower as habitats deteriorate and areas can no longer be used for transportation and recreation. In the Illinois River’s Peoria Lake, levels have declined from 6 to 8 feet in the 1960s to 2 feet in recent years.

ISTC initiated a pilot project in 2004 after Marlin considered the sediment problem in Peoria Lake.  Sediment storage areas were scarce in Peoria, but the material could be deposited on a 500-acre U.S. Steel South Works redevelopment site to create a park.

“Engineers told me that it couldn’t be done,” Marlin said. “It would be too expensive to truck sediment 165 miles from Peoria to Chicago. It occurred to me that barges could be loaded directly from the lake, and using the river system, we could take the barges right to the site, which borders Lake Michigan.”

Most sediment was easily handled by trucks and bulldozers, although some was sticky and did not flow smoothly.
Most sediment was easily handled by trucks and bulldozers, although some was sticky and did not flow smoothly.
During the summer of 2004, botanists from the Illinois Natural History Survey identified plants growing in the placed sediment to determine if any non-native (invasive) species had been transported. The plants were all common to Illinois.
During the summer of 2004, botanists from the Illinois Natural History Survey identified plants growing in the placed sediment to determine if any non-native (invasive) species had been transported. The plants were all common to Illinois.

But first, many agencies and organizations had to come on board. At that time, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn coordinated their participation in an “unbelievable political operation,” Marlin said. Representatives and senators from the Democratic and Republican parties supported the project, along with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ISTC, the Illinois State Water Survey, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, the City of East Peoria, and others.

Barges transported more than 80 loads of sediment to the Chicago site that summer. Once the sediment was removed from the barges, it was spread by bulldozer over 15 acres “like icing on a cake,” Marlin said. Over the winter, the sediment weathered to become loose soil, and eventually was used to plant grass, prairie vegetation and trees.

Two of the biggest advantages of the Mud to Parks initiative are the ability to help restore the aquatic habitat in Peoria Lake and to reclaim the sediment for use at restoration and construction sites.  This prevents native soil from being taken from farmland and suburban developments for new projects.

“This project provided a way to take Illinois soil that was washed off the land through erosion and reuse the soil by putting it back on the land,” Marlin said. “Once the sediment is washed into the Gulf of Mexico, it’s gone.”

Dr. Robert Darmody, a soil scientist at the University of Illinois, inspects sediment derived topsoil one year after removal from the lake.
Dr. Robert Darmody, a soil scientist at the University of Illinois, inspects sediment derived topsoil one year after removal from the lake.
Grass covered the sediment on the slag field by 2005. This 2013 photo shows grass and prairie plants thriving. This site, located at the end of 87th St. on Lake Michigan, also supports trees and paths in what is now called Steelworkers Park.
Grass covered the sediment on the slag field by 2005. This 2013 photo shows grass and prairie plants thriving. This site, located at the end of 87th St. on Lake Michigan, also supports trees and paths in what is now called Steelworkers Park.

The process that was developed through the Mud to Parks project proved to be successful, but also difficult to continue. There needs to be a dredging project at one end of the journey and both an operation and a space to place and reuse the sediment at the other end.  If commercial operations coordinated efforts to transport the sediment using barges and stockpile and dry the sediment-derived topsoil, they could mix in biosolids or compost for added nutrients if desired, then sell the topsoil at a profit, particularly in Chicago and St. Louis, where topsoil is expensive.

Mud to Parks project details are available in the ISTC Technical Report 068, Beneficial Use of Illinois River for Agricultural and Landscaping Applications and on the ISTC web site.

 

ISTC project informs California school’s food waste diversion pilot program

When California mandated that businesses and organization, including schools, begin diverting their organic waste from the state’s landfills, the Franklin Elementary PTA in Glendale, California decided to take action.

Using information from ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge for inspiration, the school developed an organics diversion program, which is a pilot for the entire Glendale Unified School District.

Monica Favand Campagna, the Parent Foundation’s Green Team captain, says, “We looked to your website as one of our sources for info when we began this project.”

The school’s PTA and Parent Foundation worked with the school to initiate the pilot program.  Southland Disposal, the school’s hauler, provided green bins and picks up the scraps once per week to compost in a commercial facility nearby. The group has also developed a training video for parent volunteers who supervise the daily lunchroom waste separation at breakfast, snack, and lunch.

The Green Lunchroom Challenge, a voluntary pledge program for K-12 schools to improve the sustainability of their food service operations, was funded by U.S. EPA Region 5 from 2015-2016.  The Challenge involved suggested activities ranging in complexity and commitment, which allowed participants choose those that best suited their situation, budget, and available community resources. Participants earned points for documentation of completed activities, and were recognized as having achieved different levels of accomplishment.

Although the project ended in 2016, suggested activities for food waste reduction and prevention are still available on the project web site, as well as in IDEALS, the  University of Illinois’ institutional repository.