Normal to Consider 20-year Solid Waste Plan

 The McLean County Landfill will close soon when the landfill reaches capacity. (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

The McLean County Landfill will close soon when the landfill reaches capacity. (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

With the McLean County landfill just months away from closing, the Normal Town Council will consider approval of a new 20-year solid waste management plan on Monday.

Although the exact date is unknown, the landfill will reach capacity soon, said Normal Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich. The facility’s closing could end up costing the community additional fees to dispose of its trash.

Both Normal and the City of Bloomington haul solid waste to a transfer station on Washington Street in Bloomington. Aldrich said once the landfill is closed, Republic Services, the company that owns that facility as well as the landfill, could charge municipalities more to haul the waste outside the County.

The company also pays a fee to the County for hosting the landfill, revenue it will lose when the landfill closes. That revenue currently funds waste management planning and outreach efforts in the community, including some initiatives through the Ecology Action Center (EAC) in Normal, the designated solid waste agency for the region.

With the landfill’s inevitable closing, EAC staff developed the "20-year Materials Recovery and Resource Management Plan" to reduce the cost of waste management services as well as the need for those services in the first place.

McLean County has completed the state-mandated five-year updates to its waste management plan, but hasn’t undertaken a complete rewrite since 1992.

“Looking at the big picture and how much has changed since then, the five-year updates no longer seemed sufficient to address the changing needs in our community,” explained Michael Brown, Executive Director of the EAC.

Brown said much of the material currently landfilled in McLean County can be recovered. While the County recycles about 41% of its waste, it still throws away plenty of materials that could otherwise be recycled or reused.

“That’s what the new plan really seeks to accomplish--identifying gaps in services for our community, especially those that could be met in a cost-effective fashion.”

The plan names six top priorities for the community, including: commercial recycling, construction and demolition recycling, multi-family housing recycling, organics collection, household hazardous waste collection through a permanent collection facility, and greater education and outreach.

Brown said with the success the County has seen with residential recycling, they’ll need to focus on the commercial sector to continue reducing the community’s waste, encouraging businesses and apartment management companies to recycle more.

“The low-hanging fruit of conventional curbside recycling has done a lot,” he said. “There are just not a lot more gains to be made in that sector through that kind of system.”

Ultimately, source reduction--cutting down on the amount of waste the community creates in the first place--is the most cost effective and environmentally-friendly form of waste management.

It’s also the most difficult to accomplish, said Brown.

“We’re essentially working against the forces of millions and millions of dollars of marketing that encourage convenience lifestyles and buying things that we don't necessarily need or buying things that maybe don’t have a great lifespan.”

Brown said education is key in helping the community cut back. The EAC offers information on a variety of topics through its website and a smartphone app.

With government budgets tighter than ever, Aldrich said the new plan comes at just the right time. Although it’s just a guide, Aldrich said he’s confident municipalities will act to carry out ideas identified in the plan.

“Actually, right now Normal and the City of Bloomington are talking about some of these things already at the staff level.” The Twin Citites currently cooperate on a joint solid waste disposal contract.

The McLean County Board approved the plan without any changes January 16. The plan also received near-universal support during a 90-day public comment period ending January 4. Out of 62 written and verbal public comments, just one was critical of the plan.

If approved Monday, the plan will go before the Bloomington City Council before it’s submitted to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.