PEKIN — Nearly 7 million pounds of waste goes to the county's landfill in Hopedale each week, an amount that county officials hope to reduce through the Green Initiatives Program.
The county's health department says the average person generates 7.4 pounds of garbage each day. That means that, based upon 2017 population data that had 133,526 people living in Tazewell County, 6.9 million pounds heads to Hopedale each week.
“We have a goal to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills,” said Sara Sparkman, a spokeswoman for the Tazewell County Health Department.
Last year, the department received $103,000 from the county to implement a program to enhance recycling and composting efforts. The money came from the county’s Solid Waste Fund and was generated by fees for landfill usage.
“In a very short time, we put together a budget and went to work on how we were going to approach implementing the Green Initiatives and how we were going to market the product,” said Rob Martin, the department's waste diversion coordinator. “We wanted to re-brand the efforts of recycling and the education that goes with that. We put out several options and agreed that this is what we’re going to do.”
Part of the Green Initiatives Program is the county's Solid Waste Plan, which addresses five areas of focus for recycling and composting initiatives. The areas of interest are food waste diversion, special events, multi-family dwellings, industrial, commercial and institutional opportunities, and education and awareness.
“There’s a big spectrum of what we’ve done with different agencies and organizations and companies,” said Sparkman. “With some places, we’ve just gone in and done a little bit of education about recycling and the opportunities they have on site. For others, we went in and offered funding to purchase containers to be able to recycle on site. At other places, we’ve gone in and helped them a little bit with some of the costs associated with composting and pickup of food scraps.”
Festivals and fairs in the area provided an opportunity for the health department to address two of the Solid Waste Plan’s areas of focus by promoting food waste recovery and diversion to compost and providing recycling and composting opportunities during special events.
“At the Tremont Turkey Festival, we helped compost all the turkey carcasses,” said Martin. “I think it was an estimated 1,600 turkeys that had traditionally been landfilled.”
Local businesses provide opportunities for large-scale recycling and composting. According to Sparkman, about 25 Tazewell businesses have implemented recycling programs, composting initiatives or both. Since early last year, Pekin Insurance has purchased recycling and composting bins for all of its facilities.
“When it comes to recycling, a little bit of extra effort goes a long way,” said Scott Martin, president and chief executive officer of Pekin Insurance, last year. “That’s why we worked with the Tazewell County Health Department to combine recycling bins at our home office. Now, it’s easier for our employees and our company to reduce our impact on the environment.”
Since implementing its recycling and composting programs, Pekin Insurance has seen 349,639 pounds of food scraps converted into compost, according to Judy Graden, the company's business communication manager. Previously, that waste would have ended up in the landfill.
“We’re very environmentally conscious,” said Graden. “It was something we wanted to bring to our employees. The Tazewell County Health Department has been a great resource to assist us with both of these programs. They partnered with us to obtain all the recycling cans. They gave us the information about Better Earth Logistics for composting services. They have been an excellent partner.”
Sparkman added that recycling and composting programs at businesses can educate employees by reminding them to recycle at home.
“In residential areas, a lot of communities have curbside recycling, so a lot of people do it at home,” she said. “We feel if they can do it at their place of business, then if they’re not recycling at home, they might start because they’re doing it at work and can see how easy it is in the workplace.”
For more information on Green Initiatives, visit www.tazewellhealth.org.