To browse descriptions of various past and current TAP projects, use the “Categories” menu to search for projects associated with various TAP programs, services, sectors, specific clients, or locations. You may alternatively type keywords into the “search” feature.
Confidentiality agreements may prevent us from naming specific clients or circumstances. In such cases, we may describe a project with generic terms to illustrate TAP expertise without revealing sensitive information (e.g. rather than naming a specific company or location, a description might highlight a waste characterization study at a mid-sized food manufacturing facility located in central Illinois and the results from implementing recommendations associated with that study).
If you cannot find a description for a specific project, type of project, or if you have questions about any of the projects featured in this collection, you may contact TAP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Name Materials Management Advisory Committee Report to the General Assembly
Sector: State Government Location: Illinois, Statewide Service(s): Sustainability Planning, Stakeholder Engagement, Resilient Solutions
Background: In July 2019, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 3068, which created the Statewide Materials Management Advisory Committee (MMAC). Coordinated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and comprised of a wide variety of recycling, composting, materials management, and solid waste professionals, the Committee was charged with investigating current recycling and solid waste practices and recommending options to the Illinois General Assembly to divert wastes from Illinois landfills. These recommendations were also meant to include improvements to the form and contents of county waste management plan required by Illinois law.
Shantanu Pai of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) served as co-chair (along with Suzanne Boring of the Illinois EPA) for the MMAC Measurement Subcommittee. Additional subcommittees existed for education and outreach, infrastructure development, market development, and local government support. Though not official members of the MMAC or its subcommittees, TAP staff members Savannah Feher, April Janssen Mahajan, and Joy Scrogum provided support to the measurement subcommittee and to the overall efforts of the MMAC and Illinois EPA coordinating team for achievement of the MMAC goals.
Approach: The primary purpose of the Measurement Subcommittee was to identify, capture, and evaluate existing data reflecting the state of waste and materials management in Illinois in 2018, the base year for the reported data. Using those data, the Measurement Subcommittee was tasked with developing a matrix reflecting the environmental impacts of diverting specific materials from landfills and relaying that information to the entire Committee. This data was gathered through multiple efforts, including a statewide survey sent to all Illinois counties to gather information about solid waste planning, reporting, and programs across the state, as well as outreach to all documented waste infrastructure sites across the state (including transfer stations and collection sites for landfill-bound, recyclable and compostable materials) to verify site status and details. This infrastructure information was then used to create interactive maps that allow users to access accurate and up-to-date information regarding disposal options near them.
The overall MMAC findings, along with the associated recommendations from various subcommittees, were compiled in report form and submitted to the 102nd General Assembly on July 1, 2021.
Project Title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan
Sector: Parks and Recreation Location: Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois Services: Resilient Solutions (Climate Resiliency), Sustainability Planning, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance
Background: In 2014 the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserves), a public agency responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas and public open space, engaged ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to evaluate the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the Forest Preserves a national leader, among similar organizations, in waste reduction practices. The success of that project led the Forest Preserves to engage TAP to assist in developing and implementing their Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan.
Approach: The process of developing this Plan, nine months in the making, included an internal and external review of past sustainability efforts, focus groups and engagement sessions across the operations within the Forest Preserves and Cook County government, and numerous topic-specific meetings. Priorities outlined in the plan, and their underlining strategies, reflect the Forest Preserves’ direction for a sustainable future.
This Plan is based on the vision, described in the Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan, of being a leader in sustainable practices. As an important part of their founding mission to protect and preserve our public lands and waters, the Forest Preserves of Cook County commit to using sustainable and low-impact practices in operations and challenge ourselves to consistently perform all our functions in the most environmentally responsible ways.
Results: Published in September 2018, the plan hinges upon an overall goal to reduce the Forest Preserves’ greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2016 baseline. It also identifies a road map for Forest Preserve lands to be resilient in a changing climate, recognizing that such conditions will significantly impact land management operations as the range and distribution of species shift, along with the availability of water and other key aspects of the local ecosystem.
The plan is divided into five priority areas:
Utilities & Emissions
Focus areas include GHG emissions measuring, reporting and reductions; green infrastructure integration; and water use tracking and efficiency
Major objectives include reducing energy consumption by 4.5 percent annually and developing green building and site standards for future projects
Focus areas include transportation and waste and recycling
Major objectives include reducing fuel usage by 4.5 percent annually and expanding the recycling program to all Forest Preserve facilities
Learning & Engagement
Focus areas include awareness and visibility, community engagement, and employee engagement
Major objectives include promoting green practices with permit holders and enhancing Earth Day sustainability programming
Focus areas include natural resources management and practices
Major objectives include establishing Mitigating Impacts to Nature Policy as well as a Native Seed Policy outreach plan
Implementation & Advancement
Focus areas include green purchasing
Major objectives include establishing a Green Purchasing Policy, establishing and promoting a plastic reduction campaign, and increasing energy rebates and incentives with utilities
On January 22, 2019, in response to a United Nations International Panel on Climate Change report, which demonstrated that the consequences of man-made climate change will become irreversible in 12 years if global carbon emissions are not immediately and dramatically reduced, the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Net Zero Resolution. This resolution revises the 80% GHG emissions reduction goal to net-zero by 2050, as well as reducing facility GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and committing to the development of a renewable energy plan.
TAP is currently working with the Forest Preserves on plan implementation. This in part includes identifying the most advantageous renewable energy strategies, guiding evaluation of equipment in nearly 300 facilities for energy efficiency upgrades, developing a means to track emissions reduction efforts and progress, and updating the Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan accordingly.
To help accomplish their GHG reduction goals, TAP worked with the Forest Preserves to develop a Clean Energy Framework, which was adopted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners in June 2021.
Project title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment
Sector: Parks and Recreation Location: Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Waste Characterization
Background: In 2014, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County engaged the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to help understand the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the District a national leader in waste reduction practices.
Approach: TAP conducted a characterization of landfill-bound material collected from District properties. Waste samples were collected from the annual Pow Wow at Busse Woods (~5000 attendees), other smaller permitted events at Labagh Woods (900 participants), and a district-operated hauling truck, which collected landfill-bound material from various locations. A total of 831 pounds of waste was sorted, into 23 material categories, over a three-day sampling period. Alongside the waste characterization study findings, ISTC gathered information and observations about the materials management system at the District, for the purpose of proposing ambitious but achievable changes to District operations.
Results: Key findings and observations about the District’s landfill-bound waste stream included:
Approximately 67% (1191 tons/year) of the District waste stream was currently recyclable or compostable in the Chicago area at the time of the waste audit.
Recyclables represented 28% (501 tons/year) of the waste stream. “Recyclables” included glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers, tinned food cans, non-foodservice paper, corrugated cardboard, and other plastic containers.
Compostables represented 39% (690 tons/year) of the waste stream. “Compostables” included food scraps, paper towels, food-soiled paper, other paper foodservice ware, paper cups, and liquids.
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS or “Styrofoam”) represented 4% (71 tons/year) of the waste stream, by weight. Most of the EPS found in District waste is food-soiled, meaning it was not recyclable in the Chicago area.
The remaining third (33%, 593 tons/year) of the waste included materials that cannot be recycled or composted in the Chicago area. This included film plastic, trash bags, and composite materials. “Composite” materials were defines as those made of multiple material types which are difficult to separate for recycling. For example, a coffee pouch or juice box is made of layers of material that, put together, make it difficult to recycle.
TAP presented the District with multiple disposal cost avoidance scenarios. Using the findings from the waste characterization, TAP made recommendations for operational improvements in two areas:
Collection improvement: Related to the collection of recyclable items across District properties, and involving increased availability of collection bins, while controlling contamination of recyclables. Food scrap collection (composting) was an option for further increasing landfill diversion.
Permitted event improvement: Related to large events such as the Annual Chicago Pow Wow and regular permitted group events such as company picnics and birthday parties. This involved potential permitting standards to encourage Forest Preserve guests to use reusable or recyclable items and arrange for proper collection of source-separated waste.
Potential funding opportunities to support the implementation of the recommendations were also presented.
Background: In 2008, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, becoming part of a network of institutions of higher education committed to campus carbon neutrality by the year 2050. UI developed an Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) as a roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. The iCAP identifies relevant goals, objectives, and potential strategies in the following categories: energy conservation and building standards; energy generation, purchasing, and distribution; transportation; water and stormwater; purchasing, waste, and recycling; agriculture, land use, food, and sequestration; carbon offsets; financing; education; outreach; and research.
Since the development of the iCAP, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has worked with UI Facilities and Services (F&S) on multiple projects to facilitate the achievement of a 45% campus waste diversion target by 2020, as part of the overarching campus carbon neutrality efforts. See “Other projects with this client” below for more information.
In 2019, ISTC and WTS staff began an analysis of collection practices within buildings with the explicit intent to increase the capture of source-separated recyclables.
Approach: TAP staff shadowed building service staff to identify current practices and opportunities for improvement. The processes for handling waste and recyclables for typical academic and residential buildings were mapped out, including movement of waste materials from the building to dumpsters, and ultimately to the WTS. TAP staff also worked with F&S to document (in terms of current deployment and unused inventory) the number and variety of landfill and recyclable collection bins found in buildings across campus.
This information allowed TAP to make various recommendations to UI F&S related to:
building construction and renovation standards for recycling space allocation;
collection container allocation, placement, and related training for Building Service Workers (BSW);
updating collection containers to improve clarity and consistency across campus;
improved signage for clarity and consistent messaging;
use of bin liners and existing dumpsters to streamline material flows to, and separation at, the WTS; and
a campus-wide recycling campaign.
Results: TAP is currently working with F&S on implementation of these recommendations. At the end of 2019, new collection containers were identified which would collocate landfill (trash) bins and bins for the two types of recycling streams on campus—mixed paper and aluminum cans plus bottles. The new collection containers use color-coding to distinguish the different streams—black for landfill, green for the mixed paper stream, and blue for the combined aluminum cans and bottles. Matching directional signage featuring pictures of example materials appropriate for each waste stream attaches to the back of the bins to assist with proper source separation. A URL for more information on campus recycling is also prominent on the bin signs. Images on the container access doors (for emptying the bins) reinforce proper placement of materials. The containers are themselves constructed from at least 1000 recycled plastic milk jugs, reinforcing the importance of not only recycling but “closing the loop” by using products made from recycled materials.
105 containers have been deployed over 30 buildings, beginning primarily in first-floor hallways. Additional containers are being obtained and deployed to locations keeping factors such as building occupancy and status of currently existing collection infrastructure in mind. F&S sees the deployment of the new containers as a key factor in raising awareness of recycling opportunities and processes on campus, as well as combating persistent misconceptions about campus recycling practices.
Sectors: K-12 schools (primary original sector targeted), Higher Education, Institutions (any with on-site food service) Location: Illinois (primary focus); United States (Beyond IL) Services: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Stakeholder Engagement, Waste Characterization
Background: According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production represented 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounted for 80 percent of the freshwater consumed in the US — yet, 40 percent of food in the US went uneaten. According to Feeding America, in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.* Food waste is clearly both a tremendous problem and an opportunity for improving the sustainability of our society. Reducing food waste in schools not only helps to ensure those precious expended resources are providing nutrition as intended, but also provides the opportunity to set important examples of conservation and systems thinking among our impressionable youth, which will hopefully stay with them as they become our next generation of leaders.
Funded by US EPA Region 5, this project focused on food waste prevention and reduction at K-12 schools.
Approach: Launched in 2015, the Green Lunchroom Challenge (GLC) was a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their foodservice operations. By registering, participants were accepting the challenge to reduce and prevent food waste in their facilities. The GLC website provided suggested activities that ranged in complexity and commitment, to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget, and available community resources. Participants were not required to complete activities, but with each activity that was completed successfully, they earned points toward recognition at different “levels of accomplishment” (Bronze: 250-500 points; Silver: 501-1000 points; Gold: 1001-1900 points; Platinum: 1901 or more points).
In addition to typical activities related to food preparation, presentation, and waste disposal, schools could also choose to integrate food waste prevention and reduction into curricula, helping students learn about food security and hunger, composting, the circular economy, and stewardship. Links to archived suggested activities are available at https://green-lunchroom.istc.illinois.edu/k-12-schools/suggested-activites/. Participants that achieved different levels of accomplishment are highlighted on the GLC website and received certificates for on-site display. TAP staff members also provided comments and recommendations for further improvement to participants based on activity documentation submitted.
A kickoff workshop/training session was held at ISTC headquarters in Champaign, IL on September 17, 2015. This session provided an overview of the GLC, presentations on relevant tools and programs, and a group discussion of barriers and opportunities related to food waste prevention and reduction in K-12 schools. A free school food service training session was also presented by Greg Christian, Founder and CEO of Beyond Green Partners, a food service and consulting company focused on the nutritional and environmental impacts of school food. The presentations and training were videotaped to enable schools unable to attend, or which learned of the GLC after the kickoff, to benefit from the information shared. Presenters in addition to Greg Christian of Beyond Green Partners included: Joy Scrogum, ISTC; Susan Vescovi, US EPA Region 5; Kelly Boeger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Housing Dining Services, and Raj Karmani, Zero Percent. Throughout the project period (for the US EPA grant), TAP hosted webinars for participants on subjects such as food donation for schools, USDA’s “Smarter Lunchroooms” concepts and food waste reduction, commercial composting services available to schools, school gardening and on-site composting, and case studies of outreach on food waste prevention and reduction with schools.
Additionally, TAP partnered with the Springfield [IL] Public Schools (SPS) to assess the opportunities for food waste reduction and diversion. This hands-on assessment provided insight into the barriers and opportunities in implementing the activities included in the Green Lunchroom Challenge.
Results:By the time the project funding ceased, 27 IL schools, three IL school districts, and two “other” organizations (an elementary school in New Jersey and the DeKalb County [IL] Health Department) had signed up to participate in the GLC voluntary pledge program (see the archived participant list). Although funding for the project ended in December 2016, TAP continues to share resources via the GLC website blog to assist any institution or organization with on-site foodservice operations with food waste prevention, reduction, and diversion.
Green Lunchroom Challenge (a topical blog that continues to be updated and is not exclusively focused on K-12 schools, but offers resources for any organization with on-site food service)
Background: The Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. Since the development of the iCAP, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has worked with UI Facilities and Services (F&S) on multiple projects to facilitate achievement of a 45% campus waste diversion target by 2020, as part of the overarching campus carbon neutrality efforts. See “Other projects with this client” below for further details.
As part of continuous improvement efforts, in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015 TAP worked with F&S to improve the collection of recyclables on and around the main campus quadrangle, known as “the Quad.”
Approach: Prior to the implementation of this project, separate outdoor recycling bins were not available on the Quad. Rather, receptacle lids indicated trash and recycling should be commingled; materials collected from those commingled bins were subsequently lightly sorted at the University Waste Transfer Station (WTS) for visible aluminum beverage cans and plastic beverage bottles #1 and #2. All other materials collected were sent to the landfill. Off-campus, in the surrounding communities, a wider range of plastics are collected by haulers, so many people coming to campus had a perception that those same materials would be recyclable on campus. This situation, coupled with a lack of dedicated recycling containers on the Quad, led to a high degree of contamination and the resulting loss of recyclable materials to the landfill-bound stream. It also perpetuated long-standing misconceptions among members of the campus community that materials from ANY waste bin on campus were subsequently sorted at the WTS–leading many people to think that placing recyclables in a waste (landfill-bound) container was acceptable, even in areas/buildings where separate collection bins for recyclables were provided. Many people believed that such behavior was “ok,” because recyclables would be captured at the WTS. The reality was that additional hand-sorting at the WTS only occurred for waste collected from certain facilities and spaces, not ALL spaces on campus, and that not all materials deemed “recyclable” in surrounding communities were collected for recycling on campus. Clearly, changes were necessary to the collection infrastructure on the Quad, as a high-traffic area, to begin to break down misconceptions and improper behaviors on campus.
The plan to improve collection efficacy and messaging was to introduce 20 new recycling bins to be paired with existing bins on the Quad, turning 40 stand-alone containers into 30 waste/recycling stations. To achieve this in a cost-effective manner, it was decided to retrofit the existing outdoor, cylindrical concrete waste receptacles from the Quad so that some would be clearly labeled and color-coded for recycling and others for landfill-bound trash. In addition to the expanded bin options, signage would be placed in the buildings surrounding the Quad to launch the new recycling procedures and clarify what materials could be recycled. To measure the impact of this project, waste audits of materials placed in trash containers were conducted before and after the proposed changes, October 2014 and April 2015, respectively.
ISTC worked with F&S to coordinate the sample collection for the waste characterizations. Each trash bin (labeled “Landfill” after receptacle retrofitting) was emptied and was lined with a trash bag for ease of collection. Samples were collected early in the morning to accommodate the regular schedule of the waste collection staff and the bins were relined with a trash bag for the next sample. For the post-implementation audits, the samples were collected from both the designated “landfill” and “recycling” bins. Waste sorting was conducted at ISTC. All samples were sorted into three categories:
Bottles & Cans: Included #1 & #2 plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans
Recycled in the Community: Included materials recycled by the City of Urbana’s U-Cycle Program
Landfill: Materials that were neither recycled on campus or by the U-Cycle Program
Results: Waste audits revealed the presence of retrofitted separate bin waste/recycling stations resulted in significantly less recyclable material being sent to the landfill, although there was still significant contamination of the designated recycling bins with trash or materials not recyclable on campus. More than 50% of the material in designated recycling bins in the April 2015 audit was trash, approximately 25% was “Bottles & Cans” recyclable on campus, and approximately 22% was material recyclable in the broader community but not on campus. At the time of the post-implementation audit, the bins had only been out on the Quad for about a week. TAP recommended increased education and outreach to help reduce contamination of the recycling stream, as well as improvements in collection routes to reduce trash overflow being placed in designated recycling bins. TAP further recommended that only the recycling stream be sent to the WTS for a secondary sort to reduce the amount of material needing to be sorted and to improve the capture rate for “bottles & cans.” Finally, TAP recommended that the University increase the number of commodities collected for recycling on campus to decrease confusion.
Background: In Fall 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign participated in the Gameday Recycling Challenge for the first time. The Gameday Recycling Challenge is a friendly competition for colleges and universities to promote waste reduction at their home football games. TheChallenge occurred on October 25th for the homecoming football game against the University ofMinnesota. During the game, efforts were implemented to reduce waste by composting andrecycling. At the end of the game, all the waste streams were sorted and weighed, and the results were tabulated. Result categories included waste minimization, diversion rate, greenhouse gas reduction, recycling, and organics reduction. Each participating game’s data is used to rank and determine the Challenge winners. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign achieved a diversion rate of 60% by improving source separation of compostable and recyclable materials. The University will use this year’s diversion rate as a baseline to improve efforts going forward in upcoming years.
Approach: ISTC led a multi-department collaboration to identify and deploy collection stations for composting and recycling across Memorial Stadium. ISTC also lead the effort to recruit and manage over 150 volunteers to guide fans on recycling practices. Additionally, ISTC worked with concessionaires and caterers to ensure that most of the service was either recyclable or compostable.
Results: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign achieved a diversion rate of 60% by improving source separation of compostable and recyclable materials during this event. Among the Big 10 Conference schools participating in the Challenge that year, UIUC placed third in the “recycling” category and second in the “organics” category.
The subsequent UIUC campus waste characterization studies revealed single-use non-hazardous gloves were significant components of the waste stream at other campus locations. Thus, the expansion of the nitrile glove recycling program to other campus locations was explored.
Approach: After successfully integrating the glove recycling project within ISTC labs, the Zero Waste Illinois team explored expanding this program for University Housing at its dining operations, with funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee. The dining hall at Ikenberry Commons was selected as the pilot facility for the glove recycling program within University Housing. After several meetings with various stakeholders in University Housing Dining Services, collection was deemed to be the critical step in the process. It was determined that installing a collection bin to hang off existing trash bins would be a simple, inexpensive way to encourage proper separation of the used nitrile glove for recycling. Since no appropriate commercial collection unit was available, two custom-designed options were presented to the dining hall. Created using Inventor, a 3D design program, one option was a 3D-printed plastic piece designed to latch onto the side of existing Brute trash containers while securely cradling a small recycling container for the gloves. The other option involved screwing two hooks through the side of a small recycling bin and then using the hooks to hang the recycling bin from a trash container. Although the plastic piece was more creative and designed by a University of Illinois student, in a University of Illinois lab, it was more expensive to roll out. Therefore, the hook design was implemented across all dining operations.
Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Waste Sculpture
Sector: Higher Education Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL Service: Stakeholder Engagement
Background: The second phase of theUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Waste Characterization Studies also involved a public engagement aspectfunded by the University’s Student Sustainability Committee.
Approach: ISTC staff members worked with a pair of graduate students to design and build a sculpture made from waste materials taken from the University’s waste stream. Plastic beverage bottles were gleaned from the sorting line at the University Waste Transfer Station and from recycling collections at various sites around campus. The bottles were cleaned, sanitized, and fitted into a mesh framework to form “bottle blankets,” which were then attached to a wooden skeleton in the shape of the “Block I.”
Design, cleaning, and fabrication took place at the ISTC building on campus. The resulting 7″ x 7″ x 7″ sculpture was dismantled, transported to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts (KCPA), and re-assembled in the lobby of KCPA, where it was displayed along with information on the waste characterization project–including the composition of the waste stream revealed by the study–as well as information on waste generation in the United States and reduction tips, how quickly the number of bottles within the sculpture would enter the US waste stream at that time, and other relative impacts. The sculpture debuted at the 2016 Sonified Sustainability Festival and remained on display throughout Earth Week.
A fact sheet about opportunities to reduce and recycle waste on campus in the broader Champaign-Urbana community was created in conjunction with the sculpture and make available on the ISTC website for download (via QR code displayed with the sculpture). Upon dismantling, the bottles from the sculpture were returned to the University Waste Transfer Station for proper recycling and framework materials were distributed to other campus units for reuse (e.g. wood was reused by the Facilities & Services carpentry shop, plastic mesh was used to protect plants as part of campus prairie restoration plantings, etc.).