Waste Reduction

Zero waste is an achievable and necessary goal

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.

The State of Recycling in Illinois

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.

Current Waste Reduction Laws

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.
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.
  • 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.

Amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act to prohibit the disposal of sharps in recycling containers to protect and keep recycling clean.

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.

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.