With assistance provided through TAP’s Public Water Infrastructure Plant Efficiency Program, the City of Henry Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) replaced their existing lagoon aeration system with Micro Bubble Diffusion (MBD) technology, resulting in significant energy cost savings and a reduction in the dissolved solids present in their treatment lagoons.
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.
What began in 2015 as a waste audit that revealed high-generation of compostable material has led to a multi-year, multi-project implementation plan to collect compostable material from buildings across Argonne National Laboratory’s campus. Argonne’s commitment has diverted over 65 tons from the landfill since 2018, which has helped them meet their federally-mandated performance goal of 50% diversion for non-hazardous wastes.
In order to characterize the types of waste, ISTC’s applied scientists collected over 7,000 pounds of landfill and recycling-bound materials from eight representative campus buildings and sorted it into 23 material categories over a 10-day sampling period. The audit revealed that 43% (by weight) of the materials in Argonne’s landfill stream were compostable. Based on these findings, Argonne and ISTC collaborated to develop and execute an organics collection implementation plan for the campus.
An article co-authored by ISTC’s John Scott, Wei Zheng, and Nancy Holm is among the top cited research in Groundwater.
“Microplastic Contamination in Karst Groundwater Systems” was a collaborative effort of researchers from ISTC, ISWS, and ISGS. Published in 2019, it was the first to report microplastics in fractured limestone aquifers – a groundwater source that accounts for 25 percent of the global drinking water supply.
BEER NUTS operates manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and office spaces in a multi-level, 100,000 square foot facility on a 16/4 schedule. It produces a variety of snack products and exclusively manufacturers its own products with a wide range of recipes. Products are distributed through various retail outlets and direct to consumers.
In fall of 2019, ISTC and their partners completed an Economy, Energy, and Environment (E3) assessment at BEER NUTS, a small, family-owned Illinois snack facility. At the company’s request, the assessment included the feasibility of on-site solar photovoltaics (PV).
The assessment revealed electricity savings opportunities that will reduce usage by 436,000 kWh annually. Once implemented, BEER NUTS’ electricity usage will drop to 342,000 kWh. Using this estimate and additional factors, the assessment partners proposed a 260 kW solar installation costing approximately $481,000. This array, projected to generate 342,370 kWh annually, would supply 100% of BEER NUTS electricity.
Despite the sizable upfront capital investment, the array could result in first-year cost of $94,820 through a reduced power bill and federal, state, and utility incentives. With continuing energy cost savings and incentives, BEER NUTS will break even at 2.5 years of ownership and will see a reduction of $149,000 in utility costs by the 5th year.
After implementing the proposed recommendations, BEER NUTS’ operations will be on target to achieve net zero electricity, meaning that the annual electricity delivered to this facility from the grid will be less than or equal to the renewable energy exported from this facility to the grid. It will also put them on the path to net zero energy. Finally, these recommendations will reduce BEER NUTS’ carbon emissions by 329.95 metric tons. This gives them a significant competitive advantage when working with retailers like Walmart, Kroger, and Amazon that have established sustainability benchmarks both for their own operations and for their suppliers.
This case study demonstrates that a small food manufacturer in central Illinois can replace its annual electricity usage with solar at a 2.5-year payback. Manufacturing facilities across Illinois can replicate these practices with similar benefits, regardless of sector, size, location, or familiarity with solar.
America Recycles Day is celebrated on November 15 annually and serves as an opportunity to raise awareness of consumption, proper materials management options, and procedures, and to encourage Americans to commit to increasing and improving their recycling actions in the coming year. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the importance of recycling not only for environmental integrity but also for the US economy. According to the US EPA, on a national average, there are 1.17 jobs, $65,230 wages, and $9,420 tax revenues attributable, for every 1,000 (US) tons of recyclables collected and recycled.
On November 16 and 17, 2020, EPA hosted its America Recycles Innovation Fair and Summit in a virtual format. This year’s events were of particular importance due to the announcement of a national recycling goal during the Summit. The goal is to increase the national recycling rate to 50% by the year 2030, or “50 by 30,” in its abbreviated form.
To provide some context, EPA regularly releases updated data on the management of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), or the discarded materials generated, landfilled, or recycled from US residences. Because it takes a great deal of effort and coordination to gather and analyze all the data required for a national overview, reports typically reflect the reality of material flows from a few years prior. Last week, EPA released the 2018 Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures report. The data reveal that “the recycling rate (including composting) was 32.1 percent in 2018, down from 34.7 percent in 2015.”
Increasing the recycling rate to 50% in the US would be a significant improvement. Seeing our national recycling rate increase, instead of continuing the disappointing downward trend, would be great news for those of us who care about sustainable materials management.
The reasons behind the underwhelming US recycling rate are many and complex, and we’ll only touch on some of the factors here. As is the case with so many environmental issues, there is a patchwork of policies and laws across the different states. With no federal policy or national or global coordination among impacted industries about labeling and product design to facilitate material reclamation at the end of a product’s life, there are a number of issues. These include confusion about what can be recycled, technical issues related to differing product structure, mixed messages, and inefficient implementation of programs.
Even within states, materials accepted in recycling programs often differ widely from one municipality or county to another. That’s because even materials that are technically recyclable (able to be recycled scientifically) may not be practically recyclable in a given location, due to lack of processing infrastructure, economic factors that make collection and processing of materials infeasible (e.g. availability of end markets, the volume of a material that can be collected in a given timeframe, etc.), and lack of clear, effective information for consumers to follow.
There are also issues of “wishcycling”–when people want to believe an item is recyclable and put it into their bins without knowing if it’s accepted in their local program. This leads to contamination of batches of genuinely recyclable materials, potentially rendering them useless, as well as posing risks for recycling facility workers.
The way materials are collected can impact contamination levels and the quality or marketability of recycled feedstocks. Single-stream collection, for example, in which all materials accepted for recycling by a program are placed in the same collection bin, leads to higher contamination. In the case of glass, this often leads to breakage and a reduced rate of reclamation alongside increased hazards.
International policies, such as the infamous “China ban” in which China stopped accepting imports of certain materials from countries like the US, have left recyclers and program coordinators with a domestic glut of materials for which there aren’t adequate end markets. In some cases that means materials separated by consumers for recycling have been sent to landfills. In the worst cases, recycling programs have ended due to budget constraints. All of this has lead to a lack of faith in recycling programs and options among US consumers, even where programs are available.
To address these various challenges, EPA has developed a draft National Recycling Strategy that identifies objectives and actions needed to create a stronger, more resilient U.S. recycling system. The draft strategy builds on The National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System, released in November 2019. That Framework was the result of collaborative efforts by stakeholders from across the recycling system launched during the first America Recycles Day Summit in 2018.
Today, recommended actions within the draft National Recycling Strategy are organized under three strategic objectives:
- Reduce contamination in the recycling stream
- Increase processing efficiency
- Improve markets
The draft National Recycling Strategy is open for public comment until December 4, 2020. To leave a comment, go to https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for the docket EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0462. This is your opportunity to let EPA know your concerns, perceived challenges and barriers to progress, ideas to effectively increase our national recycling rate, and any suggestions for additions or improvement to the actions already outlined.
When you enter the docket number as listed above, you’ll see a “Memo Opening Docket for Public Comment” in the search results. Open that, and if you see “Open Docket Folder,” open that as well so you can view the primary document (Memo Opening Docket for Public Comment, with a “Comment Now” button next to it) plus two supporting documents–the actual text of the draft National Recycling Strategy and an executive summary of the text. (Note, if you’re redirected to a beta version of the new regulations.gov website, the process will be slightly different and you won’t have to open the docket folder to see the three relevant documents). You will also be able to view all previously submitted comments if you choose. Comments can be made anonymously.
To simplify the submission process, you may want to prepare your comment in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or similar program ahead of time, and copy and paste your thoughts into the online form. Note that if you want to refer to documents in your comment, you can upload supporting files via the comment form as well. For example, if your community has a particularly effective consumer education publication, you might want to provide it as an example or include a copy of a recycling policy, journal article, etc. For further guidance, consult the regulations.gov “Tips for Submitting Effective Comments” document, available in PDF format. Additional guidance on the comment submission process and contact information if you experience difficulty is available at https://www.regulations.gov/help.
Meanwhile, if you represent a US-based organization interested in working toward a more resilient materials economy, consider signing the America Recycles Pledge. This signifies your willingness to participate in ongoing dialogues and to take action with other pledge signers to improve America’s recycling system. Learn more at https://www.epa.gov/americarecycles/forms/america-recycles-pledge.
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 material categories.
The audit team used an activity zone approach to capture waste from buildings by use, such as administrative offices, academic and lab settings, student residence halls, and multi-use spaces.
Landfill and recycling bins from various outdoor areas of campus, such as along internal walking paths, busy urban corridors, and in parking structures, comprised an “On-the-go” activity zone. The study team and an enthusiastic group of student, staff, and faculty volunteers sorted the waste over the course of a wintery week.
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.
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.”
The Caseyville Township Water Reclamation Facility recently received a free facility assessment through Illinois EPA’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Energy Assessment Program. The program is a partnership between Illinois EPA, ISTC, and the University of Illinois’ Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC).
ISTC conducted the assessment in July 2019 and identified several ways to reduce energy use, including upgrading to LED lighting and installing variable frequency drives on blower motors. The plant used Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program incentives to help fund the upgrades.
Altogether, the lighting and motor upgrades will reduce the township’s energy use by more than 2.3 million kilowatt-hours every year and deliver six-figure savings in annual energy costs.
Since the emergence of mass-produced plastics in the 1940s, the global appetite for these materials has rapidly increased. Estimates of cumulative plastic waste generated are as much as 6.3 billion metric tons. Less than 10% of this material is recycled, while nearly 80% is sent to landfills or released into the natural environment. Because of this, microplastics are now ubiquitous in the environment. Their presence has been detected in surface waters, groundwater sources such as Karst waters, sediments, wildlife, and even consumer products.
The major drawback with current microplastic sample preparation and counting is that researchers use different methods. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was the first to publish a standard method to measure these materials. However, it only addressed large plastic debris in surface water and beach samples. Furthermore, it can only isolate and account for materials with a density less than 1.2 g/cm3. Many microplastics, including polyvinyl chloride, polyesters, and fluoropolymers, have a density greater than 1.3 g/cm3 and are unaccounted for in preparation by NOAA’s method.
When the researchers analysed samples from the Lake Muskegon and Missouri surface waters, they discovered that they would have missed the most abundant microplastics, those less than 300 µm, if they had processed them using the standard NOAA method. Their new method achieves a lower size detection limit and greater microplastic density limit.
The researchers also designed an innovative reporting method that uses detailed size measurements of the microplastic in the sample. This new approach for data reporting allows researchers to estimate the mass of microplastics present. This measurement is important because although particle sizes can change in a sample, the overall mass remains the same.
Following development, the researchers demonstrated the method with surface waters collected from three locations and fish larvae samples archived by the Illinois Natural History Survey.
The work is detailed in ISTC’s new research report, Development and Demonstration of a Superior Method for Microplastics Analysis: Improved Size Detection Limits, Greater Density Limits, and More Informative Reporting.