Water, Waste and Energy

Water Use Reduction

As specified in the Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM), the CDA requires all projects to maximize water efficiency within buildings to reduce the burden on the municipal water supply and wastewater systems and to also limit or eliminate the use of potable water for landscape irrigation.

Water Efficient Landscaping

Water efficient landscaping techniques employed at O'Hare include:

  • Planting drought tolerant and native plant species
  • Using high-efficiency irrigation techniques
  • Use of captured rainwater
  • Use of recycled, non-potable water
Restroom Modernization

The CDA continues to modernize airport restroom facilities at O'Hare by installing high-efficiency faucets, toilets and urinals to conserve water. The CDA is also incorporating more natural light to reduce the electricity demand and performing other techniques to conserve water and energy.

The CDA has completed upgrades to more than 80 airport restrooms located in public areas.


Waste Management

The CDA is committed to reducing its environmental footprint in an efficient, cost-conscious manner. Recycling, reuse and cost-effective management of non-hazardous and hazardous wastes each play a role in managing our fiscal costs.

Single-Stream Recycling

The O'Hare competitive bid contract for waste hauling, recycling and disposal clarified and expanded the materials to be recycled off-airport and made provisions for simplified, cost-effective handling of materials to be recycled as a single stream.

In the single-stream recycling program, mixed paper (office paper, newspaper, magazines, cardboard, paperboard, telephone directories) and containers (steel cans, aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic bottles) are placed in a single recycling container. This increases the ease and convenience of recycling so more people participate. The recyclables are collected and placed in 30 cubic yard recycling compactors. Compacted recyclables are then hauled away and processed for recycling for less than 25 percent of the cost of regular trash.

The CDA’s Green Concessions Policy provides concessionaires at O'Hare and Midway with guidance and standards for minimizing waste, enhancing recycling, generating demand for eco-friendly products, and providing healthier foods for passengers and employees. All existing concessionaires operating at O’Hare and Midway as well as all new concessionaires must adopt this policy. It includes the ban of styrofoam and petroleum-based plastic containers and utensils and the procurement of green cleaning products.

Battery Recycling

Household batteries can contain mercury, cadmium and other toxic material. To keep these from the conventional waste stream, landfills and ground water, the CDA maintains battery collection points in multiple work areas for safe, simple access. These batteries are then disposed of properly and recycled to the greatest extent practical.

Liquid Collection Stations

Liquid collection stations have been installed at select high-volume security checkpoints. The stations provide a method to dispose of liquids prior to entering the security lines without discarding bottles, which has provided a dramatic reduction in the weight of liquids to the waste stream and reduced disposal costs.

Every year, each station is estimated to prevent 29 tons of trash from going to the landfill, saving over 2,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, over 2,200 gallons of oil, and nearly 17,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. By reducing the weight and frequency of waste hauls, the liquid collection stations are estimated to save the CDA thousands of dollars each year.

Filtered Water Bottle Refill Stations

Once cleared through security, passengers can refill their water bottles at designated filtered water bottle refill stations. This allows passengers to refill their bottles that had to be emptied prior to entering security, providing a convenient way to stay hydrated. Each water bottle refill station fills over 100,000 bottles per year and helps the CDA reduce landfill bound waste and the frequency of waste pickups.


In partnership with HMSHost, the CDA launched a composting program at O'Hare in the summer of 2011. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic waste into a rich soil called compost. It provides a cost-effective, sustainable waste disposal solution that yields many benefits including:
diversion of organic materials from landfills;
use as natural, chemical-free fertilizer for food crops; and
promotion of higher agricultural yields.

The O'Hare composting program helps keep waste out of landfills while also provideing a substantial source of food waste to be used as compost. Restaurants including Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless, Stefani's Tuscany Café and Stanley's Blackhawks Kitchen & Tap collect pre-consumer food waste for composting. In addition, all Starbucks Coffee locations at O'Hare collect coffee grounds for composting.

The CDA has a similar program at Midway. At Midway, 15 restaurants including Harry Caray's, Let Them Eat Cake (two restaurants), Miller's Pub, Sprigs, Manny's Express, Manny's Deli, Red Mango, Oak Street Beach Café, Taylor Street Market, Tuscany Café, Halsted St. Tap, and Dot-Com Café collect pre-consumer food waste and deliver it to an off-site, certified composting facility.

Energy Management


Solar Photovoltaic Energy System

The CDA is pursuing the development of a solar panel installation at O'Hare to reduce its environmental footprint in an efficient, cost-conscious manner. The CDA plans to install and operate up to 52 acres of ground-mounted solar panels around O'Hare on vacant properties. The O'Hare solar photovoltaic system will supply clean, renewable energy to the airport while helping grow the region's renewable energy market. The solar initiative is just one example of how the CDA is working to provide new, innovative opportunities for public-private partnership to grow the green economy in Chicago and beyond.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades

The CDA was awarded two grants from the State of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) for the replacement of 1,100 traditional taxiway and runway guard lights at O'Hare with energy-efficient LED lighting and for the replacement of 2,400 traditional interior lights with energy-efficient lighting in Terminal 2. The amount of both grants totaled nearly $70,000. It is estimated that these two lighting improvement projects resulted in 632,000 kilowatt hours of energy savings each year, enough energy to power 68 homes annually.

The DCEO is the lead Illinois agency responsible for improving the state's competitiveness in the global economy through the administration of programs, services, initiatives, and partnerships with businesses and local governments to achieve targeted annual energy savings goals.

Future lighting improvement projects at O'Hare include energy-efficient upgrades in pedestrian corridors, baggage claim areas, and public roadways on airport property.


The CDA is applying to participate in the Public Sector Retro-Commissioning Program sponsored by the Illinois DCEO at the Aviation Administration Building and one other building yet to be determined. The program involves an in-depth retro-commissioning analysis that will identify low-cost energy conservation projects estimated to pay for themselves within 18 months through energy cost savings. To participate in the program, the CDA has committed to invest at least $10,000 per building enrolled to implement energy efficiency projects identified in the analysis.

Once accepted to the program, a DCEO-appointed retro-commissioning service provider will analyze building heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) as well as lighting systems and operation controls to determine opportunities to increase efficiency.