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:
In 1986, the Solid Waste Management Fund was established, which set the first state goal discouraging landfill use. Then, in 1988, the Solid Waste Planning and Recycling Act was passed, which encouraged long range planning. Illinois bans tires, used oil, white goods (like refrigerators and air conditioners), landscape waste, and electronics from landfills, as well as partially banning asphalt roofing shingles. The state goal for recycling is 25% from counties. Illinois does not have a “bottle bill,” which would require a deposit on the consumer purchase of beverages in cans or bottles with a return on that deposit when it is recycled. In 1977 a “bottle bill” got out of committee, the high water mark for the struggle to require a deposit on disposable bottles in Illinois. In 2012, the Task Force on the Advancement of Recyclable Materials was created to bring stakeholders together. To decrease food waste paid for with tax dollars especially, the 2016 bill HB5530 was passed to allow food donations from schools and other government operated facilities to prevent it from ending up in the landfill.
Landscape waste was banned from landfills in Illinois in 1990. There are many landscape waste composting facilities and jobs in Illinois as a result of this effort. Permit requirements for Commercial Food Scrap Composting were lowered in 2009, making this type of business more feasible for Illinois. Permit requirements were removed for urban farms and compost piles under 25 cubic yards in 2013. These facilities need only register with the IEPA and follow local laws.

In 2015, HB437 was passed to allow for temporary and permanent sites to collect organics for composting.

Hazardous Waste and Incineration:
The last municipal solid waste incinerator in Illinois closed in 2013. Illinois has a checkered past with incineration and used to have a Retail Rate Law which subsidized “waste to energy” incineration. This law was repealed in 1996, saving the state billions of dollars and removing the incentive to put the facilities in low-income communities. With the goal of protecting the Mahomet Aquifer in mind, HB1326 was passed in 2015 which prohibited hazardous wastes that can leach into this important water source.
Manufacturer Responsibility:
  • In 2008, Electronic Waste Products Recycling Act was signed into law, requiring electronics manufacturers to collect and recycle or reuse electronic waste. Since 2013, each manufacturer of electronic products in Illinois must recycle or reuse an amount equal to 50% of the weight of what they sell each year. This law bans electronic waste from landfills.
  • An amendment to this Act in 2015 amends the Act to raise the 2015 goal from approximately 36.7 million pounds to 46.6 million pounds. The goal increases to 49.6 million pounds in 2016 and 2017 with an understanding that it may still be too low but that it does represent an increase over what would have been expected under the prior statutory formula. This change also addresses the high cost of partially recycling CRT glass by authorizing treated CRT glass to be placed in a retrievable storage cell at a permitted landfill with the weight still counted toward overall electronic recycling goals. Additional recycling methods for CRT, should they become available, will be allowed through the IEPA’s BUD system. Moreover, this bill prohibits charging units of local government for recycling electronics and requires all electronic recycling vendors receiving manufacturer contracts to be R2 or E-Steward certified.
  • In 2010, Mercury Thermostat Collection legislation required manufacturers to collect and properly dispose of thermostats containing mercury. An amendment to this Act in 2015, allowed the collection of loose thermostats to count towards these goals.
Prohibition Against Sharps in Recycling:
Recently passed legislation that amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act to prohibit the disposal of sharps in recycling containers to protect and keep recycling clean.
Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010:
A federal law that authorizes the Attorney General to promulgate new regulations for the delivery of unused pharmaceuticals to appropriate entities for disposal in a safe and effective manner. The Act also allows public and private entities to develop a variety of methods of collection and disposal of controlled substances, including pharmaceuticals, in a secure, convenient, and responsible manner in order to reduce the introduction of potentially harmful substances into the environment.
Safe Pharmaceutical Disposal Act:
When medication is flushed down the toilet or thrown down the drain, it can end up in our water sources. The long term effects are currently not fully understood, but we do know that pharmaceuticals in the water supply affect the local environment, including aquatic life. This Illinois act, effective since 2010, prohibits the discharge or disposal of any unused medication or prescription drugs into a public wastewater collection system or septic system. The Act also provides for the collection and environmentally safe disposal of these substances. A portion of Heroin Task Force legislation passed in 2015 also provides for the collection and safe disposal of unused controlled substances (e.g., opiates, narcotics, hallucinogens) through a state run program.
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.
Overall waste infrastructure in Illinois should operate in a way that minimizes costs to consumers and meets waste diversion goals. This plan and overall state policy should direct materials towards the highest and best use for the reuse, recycling, or disposal of the material.

Illinois should take steps to reduce the amount of waste it produces and reduce the amount of valuable material headed towards the landfill. To meet this goal policies in Illinois should emphasize this zero waste goal by providing grant money or tax incentives for reduction and reuse, ending any subsidies that might support landfilling, and removing policy barriers to reduction or reuse. This includes the exploration of a bottle bill deposit or other similar program. Other steps could include mandatory, statewide service requirements for residential and commercial recycling. Ideally, Illinois will embrace a zero waste goal and policies that incentivize source reduction.

Address permitting and financial barriers to composting programs.
Additionally, the state should have a robust system to enforce complaints against compost facilities that are not protecting the environment. Estimates of Illinois’ waste stream indicate that nearly ⅓ is organic and 13% is food scrap. Illinois is behind other states in removing food scrap from the waste stream. Illinois could start by better enforcing the ban on landscape waste in landfills. Policies should steer towards the minimization of organic waste in landfills. Still, there must be appropriate permitting and enforcement that encourages composting business, but still protects public health and minimizes neighborhood complaints. Illinois should plan for organic materials to be removed from the landfill through a full economic analysis and infrastructure development.
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.
Illinois’ current procurement code gives state agencies discretion for awarding contracts to suppliers who will fulfill contracts with recycled materials. However, state-level contracts should require any supplier to provide a minimum of 10 % recycled materials.
Education and outreach funding should be increased and these programs should be expanded, coordinated, and regularly assessed for effectiveness.
The public could easily be confused by both the lack of information on recycling in some geographic areas and the diversity of different recycling information throughout the state. Grant and education programs from IEPA and DCEO are an important resource. There should be statewide planning to determine the needs for new programs and the effectiveness of current programs. Contamination is an important issue that needs to be addressed by education.
Barriers to safe disposal of household hazardous waste should also be removed
(for example, concerns over locations for pharmaceutical disposal) and there should be better funding and geographic dispersion of HHW programs.
Illinois should establish strong requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility.
All new EPR legislation has a strong emphasis on reuse and integrates local decision making. Relevant stakeholders have reviewed segments of the waste stream that take up a significant amount of volume or are hazardous and targeted these segments for EPR or other statutory changes that significantly increase diversion. Some examples – paint, carpet, mattresses, batteries, pharmaceuticals, light bulbs, cooking grease, polystyrene, syringes, textiles.

Because recent electronic waste legislation is not considered a long term solution, Illinois should continue its review of 24 other states laws for effectiveness. Recycling laws should provide continuous service provisions, true coverage of recycling costs, and convenience standards that provide convenient drop-off and collection services regardless of the density of the population throughout the state.

Illinois should make grant funding available to support businesses that are working to reduce material waste and reuse or recycle materials.
First and foremost, loopholes for waste disposal must be closed. There are many ways to explore additional funding for source reduction and waste diversion programs. Current funding should be restructured and re-examined to make assets available statewide. Funding options, such as an increased tipping fee or consumer cost for trash disposal, should be explored.
Businesses that are working to reduce their material waste and reuse or recycle materials should be supported by Illinois through market and job development.
Illinois should establish policies and monetary incentives to promote businesses in the waste reuse/reduction/recycling industry and to support businesses that choose to reduce waste. For example, DCEO could create a measurement system for job creation supported by regular reporting. The state could also support market development for recycled and reused materials and end product compost.
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.


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