Lake County wants waste stream to be more recyclable
A driver gets ready to dump recyclables at the Waste Management Material's Recovery facility in Grayslake. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 29, 2012 11:56AM
GRAYSLAKE — Fifteen years after the Waste Management Materials Recovery Facility opened south of the Countryside Landfill, one truck after another hauls in a total of 120,000 tons of recyclable items each year, with the one-millionth ton having come through in 2011.
Officials with the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County said Wednesday that those numbers aren’t good enough, announcing a new public-awareness campaign that asks consumers to adopt the approach: “Recycle First, Trash Last.”
“It might seem simple, but to me, it’s really profound,” said SWALCO Executive Director Walter Willis, saying that the concept emerged from a 60 Percent Recycling Task Force Report from 2010-11 that envisioned that percentage as a new normal.
“We started looking at the fact that we recycle 40 percent — ‘Oh, that’s pretty good,’” Willis told a gathering at the Route 83 recovery facility. “But you know what? We’re throwing away 60 percent. So we have to flip-flop that, and that’s exactly what this campaign is talking about. ... We want you to think about something (disposable) as a valuable resource, and not something that’s waste.”
Backed by radio and transit-sign advertisements, direct mail and a Web site (RecycleFirstTrashLast.org), the campaign’s goals include education about what can be tossed in recycling bins. Craig Cookson, a director in the plastics division for the American Chemistry Council, said Lake County residents “already do a great job (at) recycling a lot of different types of plastics,” but might be confused by outdated limitations.
“(It) can be confusing with the shapes and images and resin codes,” Cookson said. “Hopefully, through this effort, folks will recognize that there’s more things beyond plastic bottles that they recycle — tubs and lids, deli containers, plastic flower pots and laundry baskets, (and) kitty-litter tubs, preferably without the kitty litter.
“And, of course, continue to recycle your newspaper, your metal cans, your aluminum, all the stuff you see out here,” Cookson added, pointing toward items rolling on conveyor belts through the facility. “There’s studies that show that recycling declines a little bit once you get out of the kitchen, so look around your bathroom, even outside of your house, in your basement. ... Your recycling bin should be full, and you can potentially have more recyclables than you do trash..”
Willis said a “recycling guidelines” tab was built into the new Web site to help SWALCO residents figure out what can go in their single-stream recycling containers. Along with the usual suspects, the items on the roster include empty toothpaste tubes, plastic children’s toys and hardcover books.
“We’re trying to move away from the numbering system on plastics,” Willis said. “We’re trying to go with, ‘Give us everything except your film and your foam.’”
Willis added that Styrofoam and polystyrene foam can be dropped off at a SWALCO site in Highland Park at 1180 Half Day Road on Tuesdays and Fridays, while plastic film — used for such things as grocery store bags, bread wrappers and dry-cleaning bags — should be taken to retail outlets that accept them.
After John Schultz, the facility’s manager, mentioned that the plant employs 72 people and brings in 400 tons of recyclables daily, Willis said that one goal of the “Recycle First, Trash Last” is to have the building in operation 24 hours a day.
“I’d like to see John to run three shifts here and hire more people,” said Willis, “and get those things out of the landfill so it can last longer for us.”