Could Glencoe be the first town in Illinois to pick up organic waste from residences and haul it away for composting?
That intriguing idea came up at the inaugural meeting June 28 of the village’s newest panel, the Sustainability Working Group. It was broached by Laurie Morse, an at-large member who has been working on a local League of Women Voters solid waste study.
“Since Glencoe is one of the few towns in the area to handle its own trash pickup, it would be interesting to see if we could pick up organic waste and have it sent to a composting facility,” Morse said.
A lot of organic material, from lettuce leaves to chicken bones to paper plates, can be shipped to big composting facilities, lightening the load of garbage trucks hauling the rest of the waste.
But it’s not easy. Glencoe Public Works Director Dave Mau said Friday that his department has “looked at it, and the net conclusion wasn’t that positive.
“The disposal sites are way out of the region.
“It’s not on our radar at this point with all the other priorities, but it’s something we might look at in the future.”
The closest big composting site is the Land and Lakes facility near Lake Calumet on the Indiana border.
Geography has been daunting for some of those who have tried it. But Erlene Howard says it’s not a huge deal for her, and she’s hauled five-gallon tubs full of “everything that once was alive” from homes in Evanston, Wilmette and Chicago’s north eightide for the last year, all to Land and Lakes.
She runs Collective Resource out of her Evanston home. “I hauled six tons in my 2002 Camry,” she said. “I’d tarp the back seat, and put 11 buckets in the trunk and another 14 in the back seat.”
Last month, she bought a truck.
She also hauls from two Evanston restaurants and one in Chicago, using 32-gallon containers, and charging them much more than she does the residences, whose fees start at $10.50 for a weekly pickup.
It may be an idea whose time has come, two years after a state law allowing commercial composting passed out of the General Assembly. Chris Barber, co-owner of the Grand Food Centers in Glencoe and Winnetka, said Friday that Waste Management, his trash hauler, is trying to concoct a program to take away his considerable output of organic waste, and not waste it.
“The issue is storage,” Barber said. “We need to have somebody take it right away. This is not like a restaurant or a house that will go through a five gallon bucket of stuff. This is way more than that.”
He said his waste contract may depend on a workable organic composting program, “whoever gets it.”
That probably won’t be the village of Glencoe, because the containers for the regular trash at Grand’s 341 Hazel Avenue store are too big for Glencoe’s trucks, Mau said.
A Waste Management representative could not be reached for comment on this story.
Restaurants, groceries and institutions “are the low-hanging fruit” of commercial composting’s future, said Morse, a former agricultural and financial issues journalist.
Glencoe and 22 other towns use trash services contracted by the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County, which tried an organic waste pickup pilot program in a Barrington neighborhood last year.
Of the 300 residents of the North Fox Point subdivision eligible for the eight-month program, only about 30 percent participated, and they only generated an average 2.5 pounds weekly, SWANCC’s Mary Allen said June 30.
“We found a lot of people were comfortable using their garbage disposal, and others who felt (composting) was archaic, from the dark ages,” Allen said.
She added that SWANCC may have picked an area with families that were too small and too old, and Howard agrees.
“If SWANCC was really going to do a test program, Barrington is not the place to do it,” she said. “Evanston may be ideal. Even if people can’t afford it, at least they understand why we’re doing it.”
She said her tubs average about 25 pounds apiece at pickup time for her 50 residential customers.
Over the last year, she’s learned several tricks to keep customers happy, such as switching out the plastic bag-lined tubs at every pickup, so her patrons don’t have to clean them.
A key to whether large-scale commercial composting is successful is a cadre of facilities that compete on tipping fees and are located close to population centers, Morse said.
It’s already happened in other places where commercial composting has been legal for longer, Allen said. They include Minnesota, Washington, California, six provinces in Canada and many locations in Europe.
Morse’s new panel is a recommending body, and hasn’t backed her idea, though none of its nine members spoke against it.
Group chairman Walt Eckenhoff said he’s interested in creating some kind of pilot program in the group’s 18-month life, as well as a clearinghouse for sustainability information, a local sustainability website, and to help eliminate barriers that prevent residents and businesses from moving forward with green projects.
His group will meet monthly at Glencoe Village Hall, 675 Village Court, and next assemble at 7 p.m. July 25.