Kane County residents in western Illinois last year recycled 413 truckloads—11.2 million pounds—of electronics. Citizens stuffed truck beds to the brim with boxes of objects banned from Illinois landfills: computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos and cell phones. These unwanted devices are then recycled to reduce the energy needed for new product manufacturing.
The local recycling authority, Kane County Recycles, advertises recycling plans such as electronic collection as a way to help the community rethink what it considers waste. Its website posts cheat sheets to help readers understand how to save money by reusing household items, how to compost, or how to compare the environmental impact of tap versus bottled water.
These efforts have helped Kane County to become a regional leader in recycling. Residents there recycle 40 percent of curbside garbage, above the national average of 34 percent. While boasting a high recycling rate, Kane County has a lot of work to do in terms of reducing waste: Residents produce about 8 pounds of garbage per day, above America’s nationwide average of 4.4 pounds. An hour east in Cook County, residents recycle just 29 percent and produce 7 pounds of waste per day.
These alarming numbers could be due to inconvenient recycling programs and lack of effective education programs, finds an October 2014 Delta Institute study funded by The Chicago Community Trust, part of larger efforts examining sustainable development.
The study analyzed how 20 Cook County municipalities are disposing of waste and recommended better recycling practices that could create up to 39,000 jobs in the Chicago metropolitan region by 2040, as well as providing substantial environmental benefits such as offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Specific recommendations include expanding recycling, composting, processing and collection efforts.
As governments nationwide look at ways to improve waste management, The Delta Institute suggests municipalities better educate the public on waste reduction efforts and research the feasibility of enacting waste-to-energy programs. The report also recommends experts provide cities with the language and optimized plan that best fits their area’s needs.
Kane County’s collection effort is an example of a new, innovative method to collect and prevent waste.
Rethinking is the “biggest piece of the puzzle,” Jennifer Jarland, Kane County Recycles program coordinator, told The Chicago Tribune. “We have to think of the resources we are using and disposing of and how we can minimize our waste while maximizing our resource recovery.”