Appeals court: Cook County has lawful power to regulate trash, recycling transfer stations

By Dana Herra | Jun 1, 2016

A state appellate court has ruled that Cook County has the authority to regulate solid waste and recycling facilities, upholding a summary judgment by the Cook County Circuit Court against the National Waste and Recycling Association.

Justice Cynthia Y. Cobbs wrote the opinion of the Illinois First District Appellate Court, with justices Nathaniel R. Howse Jr. and David Ellis concurring in the opinion.

National Waste & Recycling Association had filed the suit challenging some provisions of the Cook County Solid Waste and Recycling Ordinance. In its suit, National Waste claimed the ordinance is void because the county does not have the home rule authority or statutory authority to enforce it, though both the trial and appellate courts disagreed.

Under the ordinance, solid waste transfer stations, which compile waste collected by garbage trucks from various locations, are included in the definition of solid waste facilities. As such, they are subject to certain regulations, must file quarterly reports on the quantity of waste accepted, and must pay operating fees. Recycling centers under the ordinance are also subject to operational regulations, regular reports on the quantity of materials accepted and recycled, and permit application fees.

National Waste claimed the county lacked the home rule authority to impose fees upon and regulate the operations of transfer stations and recycling facilities because they “are integral to a regional, comprehensive approach to waste collection, transport, management and disposal.” The plaintiff claimed that the regional nature of the operations meant the state was the proper authority to regulate them.

According to Cook County’s government blog, the ordinance, passed in January 2014, was intended to support recommendations of the Sustainability Advisory Council and the Solid Waste Management Plan to increase recycling, reduce “fly-dumping,” and reduce theft of metals from recycling facilities. In the blog post, the county noted that “no local entity” was regularly monitoring landfills and transfer stations and that state authorities did not make regular checks of recycling facilities.

The court found that National Waste’s reliance on the Illinois Environmental Protection Act in its argument that the county lacks statutory authority had a major flaw. While National Waste claimed that the state, through the act, already regulates waste facilities, the court noted that the General Assembly also enacted the Solid Waste Act, which works within the framework of the Environmental Protection Act but confers the responsibility of developing specific waste management plans to the counties. The court added that Cook County’s extensive reporting requirements, to which National Waste objected, demonstrate an effort by the county to comply with the Solid Waste Act. The information gathered from the reporting requirements is intended to help future public officials to identify areas requiring extra attention and craft new policies on waste management.

Since the county clearly had statutory authority to enact the ordinance, the court wrote, National Waste’s arguments about home rule authority were superfluous. Nonetheless, the court addressed that challenge as well and also found the county acted within its authority.

“Here, the nature of the problem is the management of waste within the County,” the court wrote. “Clearly, the problem that the [ordinance] seeks to address is the significant public health risks that the operations of solid waste and recycling facilities pose to County residents.”

In applying the accepted three-part test of home rule authority, the court found that the issue of waste management is local, the county has a more vital interest than the state and, under the Solid Waste Act, the county has a more traditional role in dealing with the problem than the state.

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