Chicago’s food scraps could soon become gold for farmers across the state, as state legislators weigh a bill that would legalize commercial composting of food scraps.
At the same time, the Chicago Department of Environment is reviewing bids to build an organic waste facility that will cut back the city’s landfill waste and modernize the way we look at food scraps.
“We need to be reducing what we can, and keeping as much as we can out of landfills,” says State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), who is sponsoring the bill. Currently, more than a third of the state’s landfill waste is organic material.
Steans’ bill, which is set to be introduced to the state Senate this week, would allow composting of organic waste, while differentiating food scraps from garbage.
Composting facilities would still have to abide by some state environmental regulations. But others, notably pollution control requirements, would be relaxed to enable more widespread recycling of organic materials.
Steans says that's because the facilities reduce carbon dioxide emissions and don’t emit pollution.
Supporters say the plan is good news for the environment, and especially for farmland in Illinois, which has suffered from a lack of fertile topsoil.
“We have good soil here, but water and wind erosion are definitely washing the bulk of it away,” says Nancy Kreith, Cook County program coordinator for the University of Illinois extension. Adding nutrient-rich compost to the clay-like soil found across Illinois could only help farmers, she says.
The initiative would also create jobs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Steans says.
“There’s just more of a green economy now that people understand and people are open to,” she says. Steans says the organic compost process would create jobs at a 4-to-1 ratio when compared to processing garbage in a landfill.
Meanwhile, Dan Rosenthal is among the leaders of eight groups that submitted proposals to the Chicago Department of Environment to receive $100,000 in grant money to build an organic waste processing facility in the city.
“What it does is finally bring the state of Illinois up to speed with other states by recognizing the value of organics in the waste stream, and not calling them waste, but allowing them to be recaptured as valuable resources,” says Rosenthal, co-founder of the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op.
Rosenthal has started a new company, Chicago Compost, in anticipation of new composting opportunities.
“I hope to bring a viable commercial composting facility to Chicago in the next 24 months,” he says. Rosenthal says he’s identified several possible locations, mostly on the South Side.
While the grant won’t likely pay entirely for the construction and maintenance of such a facility, city officials see it as a way to divert organic waste from city landfills.
“When you look at 40 percent of the city’s total waste stream as organic material…it’s important from an environmental impact that we look at how we can reduce that,” says Larry Merritt, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Environment.
Merritt says the department is still reviewing grant applicants, and would make a decision soon.
Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17