Illinois has a long history of championing recycling and composting programs, but it has a long way to go. We generate approximately 19 million tons of garbage a year, which is 23% more waste per capita than the average state in the U.S. Sadly, only 37% of this waste material is ever recycled. Additionally, even though estimates of Illinois’ waste stream indicate that nearly 20% is organic and 23% is food scrap, only 13% and 1% of these materials, respectively, is diverted from landfills (composted)–this places Illinois behind other states in removing food scrap from our waste stream. There are 42 landfills in Illinois, with a statewide landfill life expectancy of 21 years—that means landfill space in Illinois won’t last forever and we must stop sending valuable materials to be landfilled that will be difficult to recover.

However, our current recycling programs divert over 7 million tons of useful materials from landfills and save enough energy to heat and light 578,000 homes. Each year, recycling in Illinois reduces water pollution by 21,500 tons of various contaminants and reduces air pollution by 131,000 tons of various contaminants each. What’s more, recycling can create up to 10 times as many jobs as landfilling, while composting can create up to 4 times as many jobs. In fact, Illinois already has over 110,000 recycling jobs with a payroll of $3.6 billion and $30.3 billion in gross receipts. Furthermore, manufacturing with recycled commodities in Illinois reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 4 million tons (carbon equivalent) a year.

Illinois’ resource management future should start with ambitious goals: we should start by encouraging source reduction and move towards a zero waste goal.

Current Laws
IEC and our allies have worked on waste diversion issues for decades as important stakeholders in the waste management process.
Curbside Recycling and General Waste Management:
Hazardous Waste and Incineration:
Manufacturer Responsibility:
Prohibition Against Sharps in Recycling:
Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010:
Safe Pharmaceutical Disposal Act:
Our Vision
The Illinois Environmental Council envisions an Illinois with zero waste, where reduction and reuse are the state’s disposal goals, where curbside and commercial recycling are ubiquitous, where composting is accessible to the public, where producers have the responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products, and where disposal infrastructure is improved. To accomplish this, we suggest that the state pursue the following goals:
Illinois should create a plan and set goals for diversion through statewide planning.
Address permitting and financial barriers to composting programs.
Illinois should provide for the reuse, recycling, and safe disposal to all state facilities by requiring a minimum of 10% green materials in its purchasing decisions.
Education and outreach funding should be increased and these programs should be expanded, coordinated, and regularly assessed for effectiveness.
Barriers to safe disposal of household hazardous waste should also be removed
Illinois should establish strong requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility.
Illinois should make grant funding available to support businesses that are working to reduce material waste and reuse or recycle materials.
Businesses that are working to reduce their material waste and reuse or recycle materials should be supported by Illinois through market and job development.
Learn More and Take Action
    • The provides techniques to reduce energy consumption and provides examples of numerous ways anyone can do more to green their life.
    • The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County educates the public regarding implications of solid waste management options and identifies, evaluates and disseminates information regarding techniques to reduce, reuse and recycle the amount of solid waste generated. Read SWALCO’s recycling publications.

Further Reading:

Partners for Parks and Wildlife

Partners for Parks and Wildlife (PPW) is a grassroots coalition that is dedicated to secure and increase funding for open space and park acquisition, natural area preservation, wildlife habitat protection and recreational opportunities in Illinois.

Learn More About Climate Change

The U.S. EPA’s website on climate change was once a great resource for basic scientific information on the topic and we look forward to the day that it is again. Until then, the City of Chicago is making sure its citizens have access to research and information.


One of the simplest ways to donate to the IEC is by contributing through EarthShare in your workplace charity campaign .