News Feature | June 10, 2015

Chicago Moves Toward "Zero Waste" Model

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Chicago is attempting to dispose of the word “waste.”

David St. Pierre, executive director of Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, says the word must be trashed as the city moves toward a “zero waste” model.

“Chicago is adopting the view that all resources are valuable and should be reused,” St. Pierre said, per Next City. “We are trying to create a paradigm where the word ‘waste’ is retired from the common vocabulary.”

The agency has released a new five-year plan for Chicago. The strategy “expands on the work the agency has been doing on everything from flood mitigation to infrastructure maintenance, and focuses on making wastewater management more productive,” the report said.

One goal is to increase the nutrients recovered during wastewater processing. To that end, the city is building the world’s largest phosphorus recovery facility at the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant. “Some other plants use the same technology, but St. Pierre says that Chicago’s will be the biggest. All of this, he says, is moving Chicago in the direction of a zero waste model,” the report said.

In another key project, the agency has “partnered with Illinois American Water, the largest investor owned water utility in the state, to reclaim and distribute wastewater to large water users, including manufacturing plants. Once fully operational, this water reuse project will significantly reduce freshwater withdrawals from the Great Lakes while continuing to meet the water supply needs of current customers,” according to a recent paper by the Value of Water Coalition, a coalition of water agencies.

Chicago is finding creative solutions to sustainability challenges. “Greater Chicago is leading the way through bold strategies that utilize public-private partnerships and deliver returns on investments for area residents. In the process, the region has created a model for redefining the wastewater industry as an enterprise in resource recovery and environmental stewardship,” the coalition report said.

As cities across the country work to adopt sustainable practices, the Midwest might have some advantages.

“We have a temperate environment. We have a highly diversified economy — it’s not dependent on any one sector. We have a stable fresh water supply,” University of Chicago Law Professor David Weisbach said, per WBEZ. “If you think about what the effects of climate change will be in Chicago, it’s going to be the knock-on effects. We’re connected to the rest of the world, and what matters to the rest of the world matters to us. That will affect us potentially very, very deeply.”