Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding now available to support recycling and composting

Three colorful bins, labelled "Compost," "Waste," and "Recycle" sit side by side. Each bin's label shows photos of materials that should be placed inside.
Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

On November 17, 2022 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $100 million in grants for recycling infrastructure and recycling education and outreach projects throughout the country.

The Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) Grant Program is divided into several funding opportunities. Information on the State and Territory Grant Program and the Political Subdivisions Grant Program is currently available on the U. S. EPA website, with information on the Tribal Grant Program coming soon.

SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program

Entities eligible to apply for funding through the SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program include “Political subdivisions” of states and territories, such as counties, cities, towns, parishes, and similar units of governments that have executive and legislative functions to be political subdivisions of states and territories.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award amount is $500,000 and the maximum individual award is $4,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials and waste streams considered under this announcement include:

  • Municipal solid waste (MSW), including plastics, organics, paper, metal, glass, etc. and construction and demolition (C&D) debris.
  • In addition, materials and waste streams considered include the management pathways of source reduction, reuse, sending materials to material recovery facilities, composting, industrial uses (e.g., rendering, anaerobic digestion (AD)), and feeding animals.

All applications must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize collection and improve materials management infrastructure.
  • Fund the creation and construction of tangible infrastructure, technology, or other improvements to reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream.
  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize capacity for materials management.
  • Establish, improve, expand, or optimize end-markets for the use of recycled commodities.
  • Demonstrate a significant and measurable increase in the diversion, recycling rate, and quality of materials collected for municipal solid waste.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Innovative solutions and/or programs that provide or increase access to prevention, reuse, and recycling in areas that currently do not have access; including development of and/or upgrades to drop-off and transfer stations (including but not limited to a hub-and-spoke model in rural communities), etc.
  • The purchase of recycling equipment, including but not limited to sorting equipment, waste metering, trucks, processing facilities, etc.
  • Upgrades to material recovery facilities (MRFs) such as optical sorters, artificial intelligence, etc.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to composting facilities or anaerobic digesters to increase capacity for organics recycling.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to curbside collection programs or drop-off stations for organics.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to reuse infrastructure such as online reuse platforms, community repair spaces, technology and equipment to improve materials management reuse options, food donation, and upcycling, staging areas for material reuse/donation, reuse warehouses, and reuse centers, and electronic waste and computer recycling and refurbishing.

Recycling Education and Outreach (REO) Grant Program

The REO Grant Program includes $30 million in funding for projects to improve consumer education and outreach on waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting. The grants aim to reduce waste generation, decrease contamination in the recycling stream, and increase recycling rates across the country in a manner that is equitable for all.

Eligible applicants include:

  • U.S. States, including Washington, D.C.
  • Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Local governments.
  • Federally recognized tribal governments.
  • Native Hawaiian organizations, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
  • Nonprofit organizations.
  • Public-private partnerships.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award floor is $250,000, and the maximum individual award ceiling is $2,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials within the scope of this grant program include commonly recycled materials, such as aluminum and steel containers, glass, cardboard paper, and plastics, as well as food, organics (yard and tree trimmings, wood, etc.), textiles, batteries, and electronics. Also within the scope of this grant program are education and outreach activities that prevent or reduce waste by reducing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, recycling, composting, or using anaerobic digestor systems to treat these types of materials or to reduce related contamination.

All projects must encourage the collection of recyclable materials and must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Inform the public about residential or community recycling programs.
  • Provide information about the recycled materials that are accepted as part of a residential or community recycling program that provides for the separate collection of residential solid waste from recycled material.
  • Increase collection rates and decrease contamination in residential and community recycling programs.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Public service announcements.
  • Door-to-door education and outreach campaigns.
  • Social media and digital outreach.
  • An advertising campaign on recycling awareness.
  • The development and dissemination of:
    • a toolkit for a municipal and commercial recycling program.
    • information on the importance of quality in the recycling stream.
    • information on the benefits of recycling.
    • information on what happens to materials after the materials are placed in the bin.
  • Businesses recycling outreach.
  • Bin, cart, and other receptacle labeling and signs.
  • Community ambassador education programs or training the trainer programs.
  • Other education and outreach activities to improve waste prevention, reuse, and recycling, and reduce contamination, such as evaluations and evidence-based messaging and strategies associated with preventing or reducing waste and improving reuse, repair, refurbish, and remanufacture of materials.

Learn more

Illinois EPA announces notice of funding opportunity for county solid waste planning

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) Director John J. Kim recently announced a new funding to assist counties and other units of local government in implementing their solid waste planning obligations under the Illinois Solid Waste Planning and Recycling Act (SWPRA). This funding opportunity follows a recommendation from the Statewide Materials Management Advisory committee that recommended, in its July 2021 report, that the Illinois EPA provide financial support to units of local government to enable them to make meaningful updates to their statutorily required solid waste management plans. A Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) has been posted to the Illinois EPA website.

Under the Solid Waste Planning and Recycling Act, counties and units of local government are obligated to revisit their Illinois Solid Waste Management Plans every five years and, if necessary, submit plans with significant updates to the Illinois EPA, said Director Kim. These grants provide an important resource to county and local governments as they update these plans for managing solid waste disposal and recycling.”

The Illinois EPA Waste Reduction and Compliance Section is responsible for reviewing county solid waste management plans submitted pursuant to the SWPRA. Through this funding opportunity, Illinois EPA intends to provide interested counties, and other units of local government required to develop a county solid waste management plan, financial assistance to help prepare the next plan update.

Eligible projects include, but are not limited to:

  • Conducting a local solid waste and materials management needs assessment;
  • Surveying local solid waste and materials management stakeholders to determine programmatic expansion viability;
  • Internally authoring solid waste management plan updates; or
  • Procuring consulting services to prepare solid waste management plan updates.

The Illinois EPA Waste Reduction and Compliance Section (WRCS) is responsible for reviewing County Solid Waste Management Plans submitted pursuant to the SWPRA.

Each county or unit of local government required to develop a solid waste management plan is eligible for $5,000.00 of funding. Applications must be submitted electronically to epa.recycling@illinois.gov and are due by 5:00 PM (CST) on May 31, 2022. Applicants may not apply for a grant until they are prequalified through the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA) Grantee portal.

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.

Glass Recycling Foundation partners with Corona on glass recycling pilot project

Corona Protect Our Beaches and Glass Recycling Foundation logo

In a recent webinar hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association/Illinois Recycling Foundation (IRA/IRF), Scott Defife, President, Glass Packaging Institute and Glass Recycling Foundation (GRF), and Jeff Lang of Legacy Marketing described the Corona Protect Our Beaches program currently being deployed throughout Chicagoland.

According to GRF, more than 28 million glass bottles and jars end up in landfills each year, despite the fact that glass is endlessly recyclable. Recycling glass can protect the environment, economy, and sustainable manufacturing by capturing materials for reuse and keeping them out of landfills, as well as preventing litter from polluting the ocean and beaches.

To improve glass diversion from landfills and educate the public about the importance of glass recycling, Constellation Brands and its popular beer brand, Corona, have teamed up with GRF for a glass recycling initiative as part of the Corona Protect Our Beaches campaign.

This pilot program involves glass bottle recycling at Chicago-based bars and restaurants. Participating locations will separate their glass bottles into a separate bulk bin for pick up, starting in late June 2021. The GRF pays a hauler for the pick-ups; there is no cost to the participating locations. Any glass bottle, not just Corona-branded bottles, can be recycled, and no color sorting of bottles is required (as noted during the webinar Q&A).  Additionally, a small amount of incidental contamination (e.g. napkins or straws) is acceptable. This creates a simple system for the participating pilot locations.

The glass recycling pilot will be paired with special events including an interactive experience that sheds light on the need for glass recycling and helps “crush the problem.” At these events, empty bottles will be turned into a sand-like powder using a grinding machine that allows members of the public to watch the process, thus capturing their attention and imagination. Event attendees learn about the program and the call to action, “#DontTrashGlass.” Select consumers will be able to feed empty bottles into the grinding machine. Events will also feature a sand art station for attendees to enjoy as they learn about the benefits of recycling glass. According to Defife and Lang, the grinding machine is actually relatively quiet; the generators used to power the machine at these events is louder than the machine itself. The sand-like substance fits well with the theme of Corona’s Protect Our Beaches campaign and brand identity. GRF recognizes that there are many ways to use recycled glass and beach restoration is one of them; in addition, bottles can become new bottles, fiberglass, construction aggregate, sandblasting, and more.

Corona glass recycling event

Over the course of nine weeks this summer, the grinding machine will tour ten different wholesalers and corresponding accounts. The complete list of grinding events is available at https://protectbeaches.com/events/. Events kick off on June 25 at two locations in St. Charles, IL, and one in West Chicago.

During the webinar, it was noted that additional restaurants and bars can be added to the pilot in the Chicagoland area by contacting Defife or Lang (their email addresses are provided at the end of the webinar recording). Also, the collaborative team is trying to figure out what it would cost to continue the recycling program beyond the pilot period. A similar pilot is taking place in Phoenix, AZ, in partnership with Glass King. At the end of the pilot the total tonnage of glass recycled will be measured to illustrate diversion impacts. Participating locations will also learn valuable information about the nature of their waste streams from those measurements.

Learn More

Links, company, and brand names are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by ISTC or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

DOE funds new technologies in plastic recycling

Bundled plastics

ISTC is part of a national team to develop artificial intelligence technologies to sort non-recyclable plastics so they can be reused for fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the team $2.5 million to complete the three-year project.

Plastics recycling in the U.S. typically requires manual sorting as workers pick out the useful kinds of plastic from conveyor belts and discard the non-recyclable types. This process is labor-intensive and expensive. In this new project, scientists are using high-tech sensors developed by UHV Technologies, Inc. and commercialized through its spin-off Sortera Alloys that will detect specific chemical-based “fingerprints” of each kind of plastic polymer, classifying them through a new system and sorting them into different bins.

“Sensor fusion and artificial intelligence algorithms used in the process will increase the speed and accuracy of plastic sorting, eventually making the technology more economical with a cost goal of less than $30 per ton,” said BK Sharma, co-principal investigator of the project.

Sensor fusion will generate a unique fingerprint for plastic pieces, while deep learning and artificial intelligence algorithms will create a novel classification system for the plastics.

Another challenge for the project is to reduce plastic contamination, a major reason why plastics end up in landfills. One of the project goals is to develop low-cost methods that decrease contamination to less than 5 percent. Improving the purity of plastic waste increases its potential and value for reuse.

A successful process that produces clean plastics, separated by type, could offer marketable products while diverting non-recyclable materials (plastics #3–#7) from landfills. Sharma’s primary role will be to use the catalytic pyrolysis process to determine if the plastics can be used to produce valuable products, primarily diesel or aviation fuels along with gasoline, naphtha, and waxes.

Besides ISTC, the team includes:

  • UHV Technologies, which has created sorting technologies for other products;
  • The Idaho National Laboratory, to complete chemical composition analysis and screening techniques; and
  • The Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, which will help to integrate the proposed technology into the existing recycling industry.

“At the end of the project, if we can come up with a process that can convert mixed plastic into a low-cost feedstock to produce different types of fuels and other products, that will be a big success,” Sharma said.

—-

Media contact: BK Sharma, 217-265-6810, bksharma@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

This story originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute website. View the original story here.

Redesigned Sustain Springfield Green Map Released

The Urban Action Network has partnered with Lincoln Land Community College’s GIS Program since 2017 to provide an online map of all things “green” in Springfield.  The Sustain Springfield Green Map (SSGM) is a user-friendly, GIS-based, online resource that guides residents, visitors, organizations, and businesses to sustainable or environmentally-friendly services, sites, and amenities. Map users can easily find recycling locations, community gardens, car charging stations, and much more. The SSGM has been redesigned to make searching even easier.

This completely redesigned Map streamlines category headings, tells its story better with tabs and graphics, and includes a new Special Projects section in the Gallery. The special projects mini-maps currently include Springfield’s tiny libraries and micro-pantries and the section provides an opportunity for more LLCC GIS students, the public, and special audiences to contribute to its development through emailing suggested additions. A Steering Committee (see Supporters tab in the online map) formulates new ways to expand Map content and engage the public.

The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a project of the Urban Action Network (UAct) which provides executive oversight and operational support. The original map was created as a classroom project by Jordyn Lahey, an LLCC GIS student. The SSGM is hosted by LLCC under the guidance of Geography Professor, Dean Butzow and is maintained as an in-kind service by LLCC GIS Instructor, Rey de Castro and Think GeoSpatial Educator, Jenni Dahl, who are also members of the Steering Committee.

“Springfield is remarkably green for a city of its size and we must continue to cultivate and support sustainability in Springfield.  The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a dynamic tool that showcases Springfield’s environmental services, sites, and amenities placing the information at our fingertips,” said UAct President Sheila Stocks-Smith. “Please share the Map widely with your family, friends, and social networks, and perhaps the Sustain Springfield Green Map can help inspire us all to make conscious choices and act collectively to make every day Earth Day.”

See the newly redesigned Green Map online at https://arcg.is/u14Hq.

US national recycling goal announced, comments sought on National Recycling Strategy

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.

US EPA 50 by 30 logo

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.

US EPA infographic detailing the environmental and economic impact of recycling and composting
US EPA Infographic

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.

US EPA graph showing recycling and composting rates from 1960 to 2018
US EPA graph showing recycling and composting trends over time

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.

graphic version of the America Recycles Pledge

Additional Resources

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.”

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.

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