Despite having recycling bins sprinkled around its parks, the Park District of Oak Park does not actively recycle anywhere but its main office building, 218 Madison St.

Right now, refuse from the park district’s recycling bins is combined with regular trash from the parks and carted off to a landfill. That’s because park users disregard the fact that the bins are for recycling, and will throw any garbage they have into the bins, according to Mike Grandy, park superintendent of building and grounds.

“People in this town are not putting the right kind of trash in the right bin,” Grandy said.

Because of the amount of un-recyclable material that makes its way into the bins, Grandy said, the park district made the decision not to differentiate between the two types of waste.

“We find inappropriate materials in the bins, and I’m put in the position of asking my staff to sort them,” Grandy said. “Reaching into the bins, you never know if you’re going to get a needle stick.”

Village Recycling Coordinator Karen Rozmus agreed that recycling isn’t an easy task for the park district.

“It is, many times, difficult to recycle in those venues,” said Rozmus, who has been the village Public Works Department’s head honcho of recycling for 12 years.

“It might be easier in a smaller park tucked into a neighborhood, where people are trying to get it done,” and willing to keep the recycling bins pure, she said. “But then you get big groups from out of town, or someone walking their dog, and it blows the whole thing.”

Bill Plunkett, spokesperson for Waste Management-the company that handles residential recycling in Oak Park-said having trash combined with recycling lowers the value of the raw materials.

“Recycling programs are most effective when the materials are not contaminated,” Plunkett said.

Grandy said another hindrance to having a bigger recycling operation is manpower.

The park district currently has one truck-purchased a few years ago for $85,000-that operates on a circuit around the village’s facilities, collecting garbage. To efficiently recycle, Grandy said, the park district would need another truck.

“We’re running [the truck] six and seven days a week,” Grandy said. “I need two vehicles to do recycling.”

Additionally, Grandy said he would need more people on his staff to sort the recycling.

“If we do that [add a more comprehensive recycling program], it means we do something else less,” Grandy said.

Plunkett said that if Waste Management were brought closer into the park district’s recycling scheme, it would try to help teach the community about good recycling.

“We would work with the park district to try to run an education program,” Plunkett said, “but it’s a fact of life that contamination occurs.”

Rozmus said she believes the park district has good intentions.

“I know that recycling is an important thing for them, and they try to be very environmentally minded,” she said. “I felt that they had done what they could-they can’t do anything if it’s not good recycling.”

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...