Cook County officials say they want to expand a composting program to divert more food scraps away from landfills.
More than 20 Illinois municipalities -- including Oak Park in Cook County -- have launched their own food scrap programs.
The county’s existing Solid Waste and Recycling Plan includes diverting things like yard waste and food scraps from landfills. Deborah Stone, chief sustainability officer for Cook County, said about half of the yard waste gets recovered and reused, but less than 5 percent of food scraps are diverted from landfills.
The county, a founding member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, currently has composting programs for restaurants, but the programs mainly serve to educate and recognize, Stone said. Restaurant owners can get tips on setting up their own compost system. The coalition also provides stickers for owners to place on their business to show they are active in diverting food scraps.
But Stone said there are challenges to creating a municipal food-scrap program.
“The composting industry, technologically, is still emerging. The market demand is not really yet as strong as we’d like it to be,” Stone said. “There are a lot of technical challenges with separating food waste and collecting it in a separate stream, so it doesn’t get contaminated.”
Stone said Cook County would like to have a detailed map of major food scrap sources to determine economic viability of collection routes.
She said the goal is to get other cities to follow Oak Park’s lead and opt-in to a composting program.
“Current efforts are focused on education,” Stone said. “They’re focused on these pilot projects. They’re focused on information, and they’re focused on improving public policy.”
The push to expand composting came with the release of the Cook County Annual Sustainability Report, which focused on the reduction of greenhouse gases from county buildings by 22 percent over the past five years.
Susie An is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @soosieon.