IFSC is grateful for the support and active participation of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO), a Gold Sustaining Partner. During a recent general body meeting, Pete Adrian, SWALCO Recycling Coordinator, provided an overview of a relevant grant awarded to SWALCO by the USDA. Our thanks to him for that presentation, and for providing this written summary for distribution on the IFSC blog.

Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, Illinois is a Gold Sustaining Partner

Gold Partner

On May 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) solicited a grant application for local governments to host a Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction (CCFWR) pilot project. The primary goal of these grants is to assist local governments with projects that develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans. The grant specifically provides assistance through a cooperative agreement to municipalities, counties, local governments, or city planners to develop and test strategies for planning and implementation that will 1) generate compost; 2) increase access to compost for agricultural producers; 3) reduce reliance on, and limit the use of, fertilizer; 4) improve soil quality; 5) encourage waste management and permaculture business development; 6) increase rainwater absorption; 7) reduce municipal food waste, and 8) divert food waste from landfills.

The grant submission deadline was June 26, 2020, and the announcement that the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, Illinois (SWALCO) had been awarded this grant occurred on August 25, 2020

NRCS expects applicants to complete their projects within the required timeframe. Projects should be 2 years in duration with a project start date of September 15, 2020, and completion date of September 30, 2022.

SWALCO is recognized as a unit of local government in Illinois. Formed in 1991, SWALCO includes 43 municipalities, the County of Lake, and the U.S. Naval Station Great Lakes as members. Over the past 29 years, the Agency has focused on developing and implementing programs to recover materials from final disposal and educating residents, businesses, and institutions on why and how to be better recyclers, composters, and environmental stewards.

In 2015, Illinois published a statewide study on the composition of the waste taken to Illinois landfills and found that food scraps (18%), uncoated cardboard (9%), and compostable paper (4%) make up approximately 31% of the waste disposed.  With the 2019 Lake County Solid Waste Management Update Lake County has committed to attaining a 60% landfill diversion goal by 2030, it is imperative that these materials must be diverted to composting in order to achieve this goal.

The need for this project is rooted in the Agency’s goal to divert food scraps and other organics to a higher and better use as final compost as opposed to landfilling. We know that landfills accept enormous amounts of organic material that decomposes and makes them the third-largest source of man-made methane, which we have identified as a potent greenhouse gas.

SWALCO will focus on the “why” residents, businesses, and institutions should take time and effort to reduce and divert food scraps.

While access to composting services through curbside collection and drop-offs is increasing in Lake County.  We acknowledge that food scrap diversion participation rates thus far have not resulted in a meaningful impact on landfill diversion.

SWALCO will put an emphasis on and helping people better understand the “why” through educational efforts to increase people’s interest and motivation to participate in food scrap collection. SWALCO will address increasing end-use markets for finished compost by studying and demonstrating its use on both farmland and community gardens.

With the support of this grant, SWALCO intends to focus on three primary objectives:

  • Objective 1: Compost to Farmland Demonstration Study to answer three 1) Does compost improve soil quality and moisture retention?; 2) Does compost improve crop yields and can it offset some use of fertilizers?; and 3) Is applying compost to farmland or community gardens worth the additional cost when compared to fertilizer costs?
  • Objective 2: Community gardening coordination and marketing the use of compost.
  • Objective 3: Reduce and divert food scraps from landfill.

During the two-year study, SWALCO will partner with:

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a unit of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, will be the lead on the soil research and land application demonstration portion of the grant.  Additionally, the Lake County Farm Bureau will assist with informing area farmers about the demonstration projects and organizing visits to the sites during the two-year study.

Soil research and demonstrations will occur on local farmland owned by the Golden Oaks Farm, the Lake County Forest Preserve District, and the Prairie Wind Family Farm, and additionally, three community gardens that are managed by the Eden Restoration Project, Lake County Forest Preserves Green Youth Farm and the Vernon Hills Park District Community Garden.

The education aspect of the project and will be coordinated with the help of the University of Illinois Extension-Lake County (Extension), Bright Beat, and Civil Agents.  These partners will develop education and outreach materials to address the use of compost on farmland and community gardens and the “why” residents, businesses, and institutions should take the time and effort to reduce and divert food scraps.

Extension will also be the lead entity for creating an inventory of community gardens in Lake County and assisting in the mentoring and growth of the education outreach to community gardens in Lake County. Extension will also make its Small Farm/Local Foods Educator available to assist with the project.

SWALCO staff and its members will take the lead on developing a database of compost use ordinances and specifications for local government road, public works, and park projects, and then utilizing and track the use of compost on municipal projects during the two-year project timeframe.

The project partners will collaboratively assist in the development of the final report and following up with other farmers and community gardeners in the area interested in learning more about compost use on farmland after the study is completed.

USDA logo and name in white with agricultural fields in background