Minimizing Waste — Kane County's Most Difficult Challenge

Minimizing Waste — Kane County’s Most Difficult Challenge

  • This is the second of a series of articles on Kane County’s recently updated Solid Waste Management Plan, which includes 20 recommendations for Kane County’s future waste disposal. The articles are written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland.

We’ve all heard of the three R’s in our classrooms, but for anyone concerned with solid-waste management and the environment, there are four more R’s to consider: Rethink is first. Then reduce, reuse and recycle.

Of those, “rethink” might be the most important — and the most difficult for Kane County to implement.

In this day and age of countless consumer products and disposable incomes, the problem of what to do with the mountains of garbage we produce every day has become paramount. Rethinking our purchases and changing our buying habits can have a huge impact — environmentally, financially and socially.

Waste reduction is the most-preferred method of solid-waste management, according to the Illinois Solid Waste Management Act. In keeping with that directive, the first recommendation in the 2015 Kane County Solid Waste Management and Resource Recovery Plan1 concerns waste minimization, and it directs the recycling coordinator to promote waste minimization through education and outreach in order to encourage reduced consumption and creative reuse of materials.

On national and state levels, Product Stewardship and Extended Producer Responsibility2 laws are keys to reducing waste and creating responsible management programs for products at end-of-life. Another way to motivate people to change their habits is a “pay-as-you-throw3 billing structure, which bases trash-hauling fees on the volume of landfill trash discarded. The more you divert into recycling and organics composting, the smaller your trash volume and the less you pay.

Beyond mandating those sorts of programs, the area where waste minimization is often difficult to foster is at a residential level.

As a society, we have become used to our conveniences and all of the great products and foods so readily available and so thoroughly packaged. It is hard to imagine giving up such abundance or moving toward a lifestyle that consumes less and reuses more. That said, we need only step back a couple of generations to remember a time when conservation and reuse were a way of life.

My grandma still has plastic margarine tubs from 1975 — reused within an inch of their lives, the print long since scrubbed away — that she still uses for leftovers, even if it’s just a few bites. Let her example serve as Exhibit A: Reuse of containers and conservation of food!

Following that era of frugality, there was a boom of opulence, but now perhaps we are recovering from that, as some people are realizing that waste-disposal capacity that once appeared limitless actually is not.

Public education is a hard job, and the task before me is daunting. How do I encourage people to simply wonder:

  • “How can I change my behavior and purchasing habits in order to reduce waste?”
  • “Am I really willing to commit to the work it takes to avoid waste in current conditions?”
  • “Is there an alternative product that doesn’t have so much plastic packaging?”
  • “Can I reuse this old thing or buy a new used one instead of a brand new one?”

For a bit of inspiration, watch this short clip, the infamous “Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard, which illustrates the problems inherent in a throw-away culture.

We don’t have an endless supply of resources; let’s stop wasting them! It’s time to treasure the simple things, buy less stuff, strive to live simply, and aim for Zero Waste! 4

Got questions? Please feel free to contact Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

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1 The Illinois Solid Waste Planning and Recycling Act (SWPRA) (415 ILCS 15/) 1988, required all Illinois counties to plan for the management of solid waste generated within their borders. Kane County adopted its first Solid Waste Management Plan in 1992, and has since adopted required updates in 1997, 2004, and 2009.

The 2015 Kane County Solid Waste Management and Resource Recovery Plan Update was adopted by Kane County Board on July 14, 2015. The 2015 plan details current waste management, recycling, and reuse practices and opportunities in Kane County and Illinois, while also offering a survey of best practices and future goals.

View the plan here.

2 On national and state levels Product Stewardship and Extended Producer Responsibility laws play a role in reducing waste and creating responsible management programs for products at end-of-life.

Product Stewardship (PS) is the act of minimizing the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of a product and its packaging throughout all life cycle stages, in turn strengthening the local, regional, and national economy. Manufacturers have the greatest ability to minimize their products’ adverse impacts, but other stakeholders — such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers — also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law.

Extended Producer Responsibility is a mandatory type of product stewardship in which manufacturers take primary financial responsibility for the post-consumer environmental, safety, and economic impacts of their products. Local taxpayers and governments are relieved of financial and operational burdens of materials collection and management. There are two features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility (with government oversight) upstream to the manufacturer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to manufacturers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging in order to minimize waste.

There are three existing EPR laws in Illinois:

  • PA 094-0732 Auto Switch Removal Act (2006)
  • PA 095-0959 Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act (2008)
  • PA 096-1295 Mercury Thermostat Collection Act (2010)

As of 2015, there are two EPR bills pending in the legislature:

  • Paint Stewardship Act (first introduced 2013)
  • Carpet Stewardship Act (first introduced in 2014)

3 A nationally recognized method of reducing waste is to implement a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) billing structure, based on the volume of landfill trash discarded. PAYT programs commonly provide three carts of varied size for trash, recycling, and compost. The recycling and compost are often free of charge with the fee consisting of a service fee plus an additional amount based on the size of cart used for trash.

The more material recycled and composted, the less it costs. This promotes the reduction of waste by encouraging the practices of recycling and composting. Looking forward to a time when curbside food scrap collection may be feasible, Kane County will continue to encourage municipal and township program managers to consider future implementation of 3-cart programs and PAYT billing structures.

4 Zero Waste is a term that refers to the goal of diverting between 80 to 90 percent of the waste stream from landfills or incinerators through reusing, recycling, and composting.

Solid Waste Plan Series