With local waste generation rates outpacing local landfill capacity, new report calls for action to reduce waste in Cook County

Food waste and material reuse are cited as opportunities to achieve greater waste efficiency

Media Contact: Katie Yocum Musisi, 202-413-0120, kmusisi@delta-institute.org

CHICAGO (February 23) – Based upon two years of research on waste management in Cook County, Delta Institute is releasing its report, “Roadmap to Sustainable Materials Management in Cook County.” The report asserts that the Chicago metropolitan region’s waste management system is on an unsustainable course that will result in higher financial costs, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and missed economic opportunities in the long term.

“With Cook County’s only remaining landfill closed, we are now paying to dispose of our waste in neighboring states like Indiana,” said Deborah Stone, Chief Sustainability Officer, Cook County Department of Environmental Control. “While we’ve made significant progress in diverting building material and waste from landfills, this report provides important action recommendations for how we can continue to reduce, reuse and recycle our way to a more sustainable Cook County.”

“How a community manages its waste material is a key indicator of its overall sustainability and its values,” said William Schleizer, Managing Director and Interim CEO at Delta Institute. “Given that, our region has a long road ahead to realign our values to support a more sustainable future, but this report gives us a good starting point.”

The report is informed by two years of research Delta Institute conducted on waste management policy and practice related to the way in which Cook County and suburban Cook County municipalities manage the enormous volume of waste generated by the people who live here.

In “Roadmap to Sustainable Materials Management in Cook County” Delta Institute reveals the extent of the waste management problem and details specific policy and action recommendations that can be taken by Cook County, its municipalities, and waste haulers to dramatically reduce the amount of waste headed to the landfill. The report recommends three specific areas of action:

Reduce: Take action to prevent food waste

Food waste is 38 percent of residential municipal solid waste and 29 percent of industrial and commercial solid waste in Cook County. A great deal can be done to reduce that through efforts by government agencies to challenge cafeterias, stores, and restaurants to track their waste habits and simply buy less of the largest food type they wind up throwing out. Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to find ways to divert excess food to other uses, including feeding the poor. Educating the public about food waste can bring major reductions in what is tossed out.

Reuse: Promote material reuse

As with reducing the amount of waste that heads to the landfill, reuse is a strategy that can divert materials of all types to a second life without the costs of shredding, melting, or smelting. Cook County’s Demolition Debris Diversion ordinance mandates a 70 percent diversion (reuse or recycling) rate for contractors with a 5 percent reuse requirement for residential. The pieces are in place for market-based strategies that could divert much more. Particular opportunities have also been initiated to reuse office supplies and for the arts.

Recycle: Revise waste contracts and policy barriers

Most action in Cook County waste management is focused on recycling, with 95 percent of communities providing curbside collection and spending 5 percent of their budgets on the effort. But it is also a system under stress as weaker markets for recycled goods put pressure on waste haulers to make ends meet. We can make a difference by improving the quality of materials that are recycled, incorporating best practices in waste management into local waste contracts, encouraging greater use of recycled materials by manufacturers, and changing policy to encourage composting.

“This report identifies the huge gaps in the emerging commercial food scrap composting sector in Illinois,” said Jennifer Walling, Executive Director, Illinois Environmental Council and Policy Chair, Illinois Food Scrap Coalition. “Delta Institute has provided steps and solutions to this problem that every individual, business, and government should follow.”

By recognizing how serious the waste management problem is in Cook County and following the roadmap to reduce, reuse, and recycle, the report concludes that we can correct our course and still accrue significant environmental and economic benefits to local residents, institutions, and municipalities.

This publication was made possible with support from Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. Delta’s research was also supported by organizations including: Cook County Department of Environmental Control, City of Chicago, the Illinois Environmental Council, Research Triangle Institute, South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County, Waste Management, and the 20 Cook County municipalities that participated in this study.


 About Delta Institute: Delta Institute is a nonprofit organization that works throughout the Great Lakes region to build a resilient environment and economy through sustainable, market-driven solutions. This report advances Delta’s strategic objective to transform waste from an environmental liability to an economic asset. Visit online at https://delta-institute.org.

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