Food Waste Recycling in Northeastern Illinois

By Pete LaHaie for SUST 210 online

It appears that at some point in the future garbage disposals may become obsolete.  According to Mick Zawislak’s article posted on the Daily Herald’s website on March 31st, Lake County is forging ahead with a program to increase the amount of food waste that is recycled. According to Walter Willis, the executive director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, approximately 12-13% of what winds up in landfills is food scraps. The county has a goal to decrease its landfill deposits by one-third by the year 2020. It considers pursuing food scrap recycling as a viable option to assist in meeting this goal.

Rows of composted material at Midwest Organics in Wauconda are turned to dispense heat. Lake County wants to divert more material, including food scraps, from landfills to composting facilities. (Photo: Gilbert R. Boucher II, Daily Herald)

According to Zawislak, “the Natural Defense Council estimates 40 percent of all food in the U.S. goes to waste and the average American throws away about 20 pounds of food each month.” There are about 150 communities in North America that collect food scraps with more than 80 percent here in the U.S. located in California, Minnesota, and Washington. The Great Lakes Naval Station sends food scraps from their dining halls in plastic containers to a company called Midwest Organics. The material is composted and then sent to their customers, among them the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Signs posted in cafeterias at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes tell Navy recruits to separate trash from food waste before turning in their trays. Dishwashers spray the dishware clean, and leftover food flows to a composter unit outside the building. (Photo: John J. Mike, U.S. Navy)

The ribbon on Roosevelt University’s new 32-story vertical campus located at 425 South Wabash Avenue will officially be cut on May 5th. According to Jonathan Samples’ article in the University’s newspaper, The Torch, on June 6th, 2011, “pulpers will allow food waste to be converted into compost material. This process removes that waste from University dumpsters, which cost upwards of $400 to be emptied, and keeps it from going into landfills.” The university is seeking a LEED Silver certification rating from the U.S. Green Building Council‘s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The pulpers are one of many sustainable features of the new building.

Ted Krueger, president of Midwest Organics in Wauconda, discusses how food scraps, the gray material to his left, are used in the composting process. (Photo: Gilbert R. Boucher II, Daily Herald)

According Zawislak, Oak Park, IL, will start a voluntary food scrap pilot program for approximately 1,300 residents next week. For $12 per month each home will receive a 96-gallon cart for organic materials including yard and food wastes. In order to make residential collection of food scraps pragmatic endeavor in a given area, large commercial generators need to be included in the process. The article notes that some large retailers are already recycling their food waste, including Costco, Wal-Mart, and Whole Foods.

Submitted 06 April 2012

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