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Northern Illinois Food Bank expands its recycling center

GENEVA – Northern Illinois Food Bank volunteers and staff celebrated the opening of an expanded recycling center Thursday afternoon.

The addition to the food bank’s west suburban center in Geneva includes a food waste compactor, which will enable the center to recycle produce scraps in addition to recycling plastic and paper goods.

“The mission of food banking was really started with keeping food out of landfills – taking it, repurposing it and putting it to good use,” said Donna Lake, the food bank’s director of communications and philanthropy. “So now fulfilling that same mission ... we are able to take the food scraps and recycle them.”

The Northern Illinois Food Bank has partnered with a company called Republic to pick up the food waste and turn it into compost.

Lauri Dow, a representative of Republic, explained how the process of mass composting works:

1. Republic picks up the food waste and mixes landscape waste with the food waste. It is chopped with an auger.

2. The mixture is combined into a “special recipe” of mostly landscape waste, but also food waste and water.

3. The special recipe is transferred to “wind rows,” which are turned usually twice daily by a machine. In about 10 to 15 days, the mixture turns into humus, which is an extremely hot mixture, highly regulated by the EPA.

4. In about six months, depending on the weather, the newly-made compost is sifted, packaged and shipped.

The expanded recycling space cost about $760,000 and was paid for through the support of donors, Lake said.

Food bank staff members look forward to using the space, not only for recycling, but also for storage space for boxes, shrink wrap and other supplies.

Lake said composting will help the environment, and will also save money. It costs less for Republic to pick up the food scraps than to send them to a landfill. All of the savings will go back to the food bank’s mission of serving “hungry neighbors,” she said.

The Northern Illinois Food Bank has served millions of meals to people across 13 counties in northern Illinois. One in seven people in those counties will seek help from one of the food bank’s programs, Lake said.

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