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[GreenYes] Chicago Tribune: Peoria Trying to Toss Yard Waste Law
January 27, 2002   Metro; Pg. 1

By Julie Deardorff

PEORIA   More than a decade after Illinois 
banned tossing yard waste into the garbage to 
conserve space in landfills, most residents 
know the drill: Grass trimmings, twigs and 
leaves are crammed into one bag, regular 
household trash in another. 

But so far, landfills haven't run out of room. 
And now, Peoria wants to temporarily lift the 
landscape waste ban to save money, making the 
central Illinois town one of the first 
municipalities in the state--and the nation--to 
challenge a law that prohibits commingling yard 
refuse with household garbage. If plastics, 
bottles, cans and newspapers are one pillar of 
the modern recycling movement that took hold in 
the 1980s, yard waste is another. Composting 
sites have multiplied in the last decade and 21 
other states have bans similar to Illinois that 
divert organic material away from landfills. 

Last year, the U.S. recycling rate--or the 
percentage of waste recycled--was 32 percent, 
up from 8 percent in 1990, according to the 
annual State of the Garbage in America Survey 
by Biocycle Magazine. 

Opponents say dumping landscape waste back into 
landfills could reverse that decade of progress 
and harm the public's perception of the value 
of recycling. Though the city has not yet found 
the necessary legislative support, critics are 
unnerved by the mere idea. If it plays in 
Peoria, they fear, it could set a national 

"To put a hole in the Illinois law and to allow 
yard waste to be put at the curb with the rest 
of the garbage is an attack on recycling," said 
Luan Railsback, who heads the Peoria 
Environmental Action Committee for the Earth 
(PEACE) and received backing from a coalition 
of national environmental groups. 

"We're not saying we shouldn't look for ways to 
save money, but this is a very, very bad 
environmental idea." 

Since the landscape waste ban went into effect 
in 1990, mulching lawn mowers have became a 
standard sight in suburbia, where recycling is 
the strongest. 

Public and private companies began investing in 
composting equipment, and educational programs 
shed new light on the benefits of recycling 
organic matter. In 1999, 357,000 tons of 
material were composted, rather than dumped in 
landfills, according to the Illinois EPA. 

"Homeowners changed their behavior," said Gary 
Mielke, president of the Illinois Recycling 
Association and the recycling coordinator for 
Kane County where, in the last 13 years, the 
recycling rate has skyrocketed from 9 percent 
to 43 percent. 

"It's a useful law. If certain parts of the 
state start taking yard waste in, that sends a 
contrary message. We want to get away from 
landfills. One hundred years from now, people 
are going to look back and say, 'What were they 

The city of Peoria spends $1 million a year 
collecting yard waste from 36,000 homes, said 
Cindy Krider, the Peoria public works 
administrator. The Peoria County recycling 
rate, which includes mandatory commercial 
recycling, is 37 percent, well above the state 
goal of 25 percent. 
But last year, the City Council found it could 
save an estimated $200,000 if the same garbage 
truck collected both the yard clippings and the 
regular trash, and then dumped it into the same 
cell at the Peoria City/County Landfill. 

One truck now picks up household waste and a 
second picks up yard refuse. Both vehicles 
drive to the landfill on the outskirts of town, 
but the grass clippings end up at a compost 
site the size of a football field. The regular 
garbage is taken to the opposite side of the 
property and dropped into the dry tomb of the 

In addition to saving money, re-introducing 
landscape waste could help the landfill work as 
a bioreactor, proponents say. 

Bioreactors, which are still in the 
experimental stage, may be able to decompose 
waste more quickly by re-circulating leachate--
liquid that comes into contact with garbage--
through the landfill. Some say adding yard 
trimmings would expedite the decomposition 

Though the city said it originated the_a of 
commingling the waste, critics have speculated 
that the motivation is to increase revenues for 
waste management companies through tipping 
fees, not to improve the management of waste. 

But officials with Waste Management said that, 
in this case, they won't benefit. "What's 
ironic about Peoria is that we operate the 
composting facility too," said Bill Shubert, 
Midwestern engineering manager for Waste 

"If this went through, we're not only cutting 
ourselves out of the composting business but 
half of the hauling contract. We're really 
doing less business as a result." 

Once the Peoria City Council approved the 
measure last year, a national alarm was sounded 
and environmental groups offered their support 
to fight it. 

The Grass Roots Recycling Network formed a 
coalition that includes Friends of the Earth, 
the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense 
Council and the U.S. Composting Council. The 
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also 
does not support lifting the ban. 

The Peoria County Board, which jointly owns the 
landfill, voted against repealing the ban in 
mid-January, and the City Council plans to 
revisit the issue Tuesday. 


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