Urbana receives waste diversion award from U.S. EPA

By Fatima Farha

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chose Urbana as the national recipient for its 2014 WasteWise Local Government Partner of the Year.

The award recognizes areas that are proactive in waste diversion or recycling and reusing materials to prevent them from ending up in landfills, said Scott Tess, environmental sustainability manager at Urbana Public Works. 

Tess said the EPA WasteWise program provides a benchmarking tool for the city to track how much waste is being created and how much is being recycled. According to Tess, Urbana has participated in the program since 2011 and this is the first time it was rewarded.

“We’ve had some really nice improvements in our recycling rates in the last year, and that’s what we were rewarded for,” Tess said. “We see it as a good management practice.”

According to Tess, waste diversion increased by 20 percent since 2013, and accounted for 40 percent of the city’s overall management of materials since 2012, which he said is a huge improvement.

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Courtney Kwong, recycling coordinator at Urbana Public Works, said she tracks the data from different departments in Public Works. One example is the fleet department, where she tracks the waste diversion from oil, antifreeze and tires.

Kwong also tracks the data from the landscape department and internal waste in terms of garbage and regular recycling materials, such as paper and aluminum. Public Works’ Engineering Department also tracks data on recycled concrete, asphalt and bricks.

She said the award was given to Urbana based off data from 2013, comparing it to data from 2012.

“This is the first year we have received the award, and now we have a baseline of data from the last five years,” Kwong said. “We want to continue the effort and hopefully even get a better annual improvement for 2014 data, which I am working on now.”

Marya Ryan, chair of the Sustainability Advisory Commission, said the commission helps advise the Urbana City Council and mayor on sustainability efforts. She said the commission formulated a plan for sustainability that was passed by the city council, which the city staff, including Tess and Kwong from Public Works, used to bring environmental efforts to the community.

Ryan said Urbana’s government has a responsibility to make sure the city is undergoing sustainability efforts, and this award shows the government is fulfilling that duty. 

“What’s kind of nice about this is that it helps the community and shows that the city is willing to do something for the environment and sustainability, that the city is willing to walk the walk,” Ryan said. 

Fatima can be reached at [email protected].