Looking to create a more sustainable and climate conscious community, three Proviso communities, Bellwood, Maywood, and the Lindop school district, are working alongside Seven Generations Ahead, to make composting a part of daily life.
Seven Generations Ahead SGA, dedicated to building healthy and sustainable communities, co-developed The Cross Community Climate Collaborative C4 with the Urban Efficiency Group and the mayors of River Forest, Oak Park, and Broadview to help bring together minority and non-minority communities to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions and other equity and sustainability goals. Currently, C4 helps support 14 disinvested and under resourced communities in the state of Illinois.
As part of their work, the collaborative submitted a project for a USDA grant via their composting and waste reduction grant program, which provides funding for municipal programs serving residents as well as programs serving K-12 schools. For the grant, SGA will be working with Broadview, Bellwood, and Maywood to help implement a food scrap collection residential program as well as provide community education on recycling and composting, which will be showcased through their SGA’s Zero Waste Schools program.
The two-year $300,000 grant was awarded in February 2023.
Dr. Janiece Jackson, superintendent of Lindop School District 92, said the district was looking into different ways to be able to address different food issues they have seen, including food waste. Jackson said the district is currently focusing on touring other school districts which have already implemented composting to see what they would be able to make work at D92.
Additionally, D92 would like to figure out a plan to be able to redirect food that is still able to be consumed and give back to community members who might be experiencing food insecurity.
“It was very enlightening to hear that some schools were already doing this and they have ways to make the food available to people who might not have it,” Jackson said.
In response to the element of composing, Jackson said it will be a learning tool for the community, so its inception beginning in schools where students will be able to directly learn about the benefits makes sense.
“I think Proviso Township is really taking the lead on that and to partner with the school districts is the way to go,” Jackson said. “We are educating our students and we need to be on the forefront of that but also making sure their health is good and the environment is good and how important it is for us to stay on top of that.”
According to Gary Cuneen, SGA’s director, the program will help organize zero waste teams in schools for Bellwood School District 88, Maywood District 89, and Lindop School District 92. They will be working with faculty, school administrators, custodial and food service staff along with students to eliminate waste sources, increase recycling, and divert food scraps from the landfill by collecting them and taking them to a composting site.
“We will be working with their municipal governments to analyze their hauling contracts to support provisions that build in food scrap diversion and collection and to design educational components to the programs so that residents are educated on what can be composed and what can’t be,” said Cuneen.
Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson said targeting composting “just made sense” when talking about environmental issues.
“We wanted to make sure that we can have residential value of organic waste that is captured,” Thompson said, adding that composting falls under their resource and regeneration goals to achieve sustainability. “When you talk about partnerships and collaborations it makes sense for our municipalities to partner with our school districts and the nonprofit sector to roll out these initiatives so that we can become wholesome in the types of works we participate in.”
The importance of these partnerships is crucial, especially for Black and Brown communities which have historically seen a disparity in the resources allocated to them.
“It impacts the Black and Brown communities who lack the resources, the funding, and the participation,” said Thompson, adding she hopes the program grows with time. “It all takes place in conversation, education, and awareness. So we have to bring that awareness to our communities that lack awareness around composting and environmental issues.”
By bringing composting to the Proviso community, Jackson believes it can bring a sense of understanding and give primarily Black and Brown communities a chance to close some gaps created in the health system and work towards living a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle.
“It is something that we need to know and take a part in and have a voice in and the way we do that is by education and by also advocacy and policy,” Jackson said.
While touring other districts can give them a starting point, Jackson said it will be important to observe those programs and also measure how they can be tailored to fit the Proviso community.
“Change begins with us and if we are saying that we want to have healthier communities, especially in the Black and Brown communities, then we have to take an active role in the change and in the process,” said Jackson.
The program is still in the very early stages of implementation, as Cuneen said they are currently looking at hauling contacts before they begin the second step, which would be setting up a collection bin system within the schools.
Cuneen said participants are also working towards building a regular meeting schedule with those who will be involved in the implementation of the programs at the schools.
“We are also in a data gathering phase right now,” said Cuneen. “We want to know what they are currently doing with recycling and eventually we will be doing waste audits that will look at what the waste sources are and how they can be eliminated.”
Bringing these programs to the Proviso Township community is seeing a larger worldwide issue and breaking it down to work that can be addressed at a community level. By working to remove food scraps from entering landfills, Cuneen said it lowers the production of methane gasses which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.
“Landfills are decreasing in their capacity and nobody in any community wants to have a new landfill site within their community,” Cuneen said. “So we are really trying in this program, and much broader than us of course, to expand the life of the landfills and minimize the amount of materials that is going into them.”
Composting is also a great additive for gardens, providing the soil with rich nutrients that help plants grow, said Cuneen, which can be used for community landscaping.
“Historically, low and moderate income and BIPOC communities have not participated in these types of programs, and this one is directly targeting BIPOC communities in west suburban Cook County,” Cuneen said. “We are hoping it provides a replicable model so other similar communities can benefit and see the advantages of having these types of programs within their communities.”
Cuneen said they would ideally like to see some systems in the schools set up by the fall and they expect the community rollout to take a bit longer.