The Menard Correctional Center is host to a variety of sustainability initiatives—several of which have earned state and national recognition. The goal of Menard's staff has been to grow these efforts beyond the prison's walls by working with fellow stakeholders to help build a sense of sustainability that reaches to the main streets of our local communities.
The Illinois Department of Corrections's (IDOC) Illinois Correctional Industries (ICI) Recycling Program is located at the Menard Correctional Center and has been in operation since 1997. During that period the operation has steadily grown. What began as a cost saving measure to pull used cardboard from the correctional center's waste stream, compacting the cardboard with a used baler, has grown and is now collecting and processing recyclables from a number of state operated facilities as well as most of the municipalities in Randolph County where the facility is located.
The program has had quite a bit of success conducting "special event recycling operations" some of the best examples being the recycling event conducted in partnership with Du Quoin State Fair staff for the many events held at the Fairgrounds including the annual fair itself.
Most recently a modest expansion of the Recycling Processing Center has allowed a conversion to a single stream processing system to be implemented. This improved method will now allow local communities to offer curbside pick up of mixed recyclables. Our first local partner to take advantage of this new service was the city of Steeleville, IL who began curbside pick up of recyclables in the community on April 25, 2012 during Earth Week.
Menard has a robust gardening program that not only provides fresh produce to the facility dietary department, but also also provides gardening and horticulture skills to assigned offenders. Cognizant of the fact that Menard's offender demographic indicates that a vast majority of the population hail from metropolitan areas, and so the "urban gardening" approach has been adopted in an effort to grow more of our own food. The concept teaches offenders how to produce the highest yields in limited available spaces, as would be typical in an urban high population area.
The goal is to have these offenders take these skills with them when they return to their communities where vacant urban areas can be utilized for food production helping reverse the trend of growing food deserts in many inner cities. This is a very effective tool in the fight against hunger and malnutrition since it facilitates the access to food by an impoverished sector of the urban population. Low income urban dwellers spend between 40% and 60% of their income on food each year. Additionally, 250 million hungry people in the world live in cities.
Composting food scraps helps mitigate the facility's production of solid waste and provides vital nutrients to the facility's many garden plots. As a part of Menard's urban garden initiative food prep scraps are collected in a cooperative effort with Correctional Industries. This important program helps to demonstrate the "Circle of Sustainability" to offenders participating in this effort. Offenders working in dietary are taught that the food scraps collected are then composted and used to nourish and improve the gardens which produce some of the food they are preparing.
Illinois has been called the "Rain Barrel Capitol of the United States" and Menard ICI has played a large roll in helping the state earn that designation. The respective chemical components for ICI's "green" cleaning products are shipped in 55 gallon plastic drums. Responsibly disposing of the hundreds of empty drums accumulated annually had presented problem for staff. Converting the empty drums into Rain Barrels serves as a great example of a successful "Waste to Profit" project. The manufacture of Rain Barrels also helps to grow our "green collar" vocational training experience and presents another opportunity to instill the concept of sustainability to offenders assigned to our programs. The ICI Rain Barrel Initiative has resulted in over 2000 Rain Barrels being placed throughout the state. Among the more prominent locations where ICI Rain Barrels can now be found are the State Fairgrounds and Executive Mansion.
Individuals interested in purchasing rain barrels can find more information on the ICI webpage.
In an effort to help improve operational sustainability and reduce operating costs, ICI implemented a program to process biodiesel fuel from Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO). The WVO is collected through ICI-Menard's Waste Removal & Recycling Program from IDOC & DHS facilities across the state, as well as from the local community.
While the "greening" of ICI operations is environmentally responsible and has proven to be fiscally prudent, the most significant impact of these measures has been on ICI's stated mission to provide vocational opportunities for incarcerated offenders in an effort to help ease their transition back into "free society". Today many offenders participating in ICI programs are learning the vocational skills that will help them gain employment in a fast emerging green collar economy. "Green collar" skills offered through the Biodiesel & Waste Removal/Recycling Program include:
- Biofuels Production
- Sustainable Waste Management Practices
- Recovery & Processing of Recyclable Materials
- Service & Repair of Alternative Fueled Vehicles
- Using recycled WVO as a biofuel feedstock is the most environmentally friendly & efficient method of producing alternative fuel; 3.5 units of energy are created for every unit consumed in the manufacturing process.
- ICI cost to produce one gallon of biodiesel from WVO is currently approximately .97 cents.
- The Biodiesel produced by ICI is primarily used to fuel the equipment & vehicles used in the Industries Waste Removal and Recycling Program. In the near future B100 biodiesel will be used to fuel one of IDOC's transfer buses as a pilot project. If this effort proves to be successful it will be more widely implemented throughout the agency.
- The biodiesel produced by ICI burns approximately 75% cleaner than conventional diesel. It is less toxic than table salt and more biodegradable than sugar.
Green Cleaning Products
ICI produces a wide variety of "Green" cleaning products. Including USEPA Design for the Environment (DfE) certified cleaners as well as many items produced from "bio-renewable" and recycled content materials. Additionally all of the materials ICI products are packaged and shipped in are 100% recyclable. ICI will even take back our containers & packaging to be re-used or recycled.
ICI Acts Responsibly with It's Own Industrial Waste Instead of land filling textile scraps from our Menard Knit Shop we recycle and process the scraps which go to mills in the U.S. to be made into things like mop yarns! Rope mops are only one of the dozens of products produced in the Knit Shop which has been in operation for over a century.
Green Job Training
While they may be diverse a common bond of all of Menard Correctional Center's sustainability initiatives is that the foundational component for all of them is to provide "green collar" job training opportunities to assigned offenders. Menard has pioneered the effort to provide offender training in this rapid growing segment of Illinois' economy and it's an effort that is being replicated at many other facilities across the state.
Additionally, many of these assigned offenders qualify for Industry good conduct credits. This statutorily codified program allows inmates with pristine institutional records to 'earn' time off their sentences for completing progress towards defined vocational goals.