Oak Park, you're recycling wrong

Village gets tough on garbage in the blue bins

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Village of Oak Park is calling on residents to get it right the first time when it comes to recycling and has announced new recycling rules that could mean your plastics, paper and other recyclables might not get picked up unless you are recycling properly.

Mindy Agnew, Oak Park's sustainability coordinator, said in a telephone interview that the problem is recycling bins that contain contaminated items or items that are not recyclable.

The biggest offenders are things like plastic grocery bags – yeah, you can't recycle those at home anymore; you have to take them to an area grocery store – lawn hoses and soiled food containers.

At the beginning of May, the village announced that Waste Management, which provides recycling services for single-family homes and multi-unit buildings with five or fewer units, will place warning stickers on recycling bins containing unrecyclable items. The bins also will not be emptied, according to a village press release.

Agnew said residents have good intentions and often want to recycle as much as they can, but this can lead to contaminants ending up at recycling centers. One contaminant can ruin an entire batch of recyclable material, Agnew said.

"There isn't room for error," she tells Wednesday Journal.

She said another problem is when people put their recyclable materials in a plastic bag and leave that in the recycling bin. Recyclable items must be placed loose in the recycling bin, Agnew said.

Some items such as cords and garden hoses, which those in the industry refer to as "tanglers," can wreak havoc on sorting equipment, according to Agnew.

She said the intent is not to ticket but acknowledged that the village has ticketed some of the more egregious recycling offenses – think overflowing bins that cause a health hazard.

"For residents in a home who accidentally put plastic bags in recycling bins it's not going to warrant a ticket immediately," she said.

In a press release to residents, Oak Park environmental services manager Cameron Hendricks said the contaminants are making it "increasingly difficult for haulers to offer the service as the market for raw materials keeps getting smaller."

"People may think they are doing the right thing by tossing anything paper, plastic or metal into the recycling cart rather than the trash," he said. "But unless we give some thought to what we are putting in the bin we may be creating big problems for commercial recyclers that could eventually be forced to reduce services or charge more."

The village notes that as much as a quarter of all recycled material is contaminated and must be taken out of the recycling stream by hand or sent to landfills.

"Tossing in just one or two soiled or non-recyclable items is all it takes to contaminate a cart," Agnew said. "Frankly, it is better to throw something into the trash bin when you are not sure than to risk ruining the entire contents of the recycling cart."

More information about recycling properly is available on the village's website at www.oak-park.us/recycling.


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Reader Comments

6 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Edgar Hiestand from Oak Park  

Posted: May 13th, 2019 3:38 PM

I see that this only lists 5 comments before the one I am submitting. But on the Facebook page for Wednesday Journal there are 22 comments. In the survey taken at the Interfaith Green Network meeting at the Oak Park Public Library on April 23 the second most chosen issue was recycling. The article lays the cause on the non-profitability of companies purchasing the waste that has been collected. The Village Public Works, along with other villages, cities, states and nation need to create a coordinate solution with the pressure that coalitions have on the waste management industry and government regulation, and support. When we are talking about sustainability of earth's self-contained eco-system, only a coordinated planning effort including everything from changing consumer habits, to spreading costs across the who system, and expedited action will succeed. A first step would be for the Village and advocates who care like those in IGN and others to be in consultation.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: May 13th, 2019 2:43 PM

Plastic grocery bags can be recycled at Target.

George Irving Thompson from Oak Park  

Posted: May 12th, 2019 4:27 PM

OK I have been doing it wrong and will change my ways. But now when the wind blows over the bins the alleys are going to be full of trash. I can't understand why large or small plastic bags can't be recycled. I've seen the pictures of equipment not working but in this day and age why can't you design equipment capable of cutting / chopping up weak plastic. It doesn't make sense. Someone with an engineering degree should have provided a solution to this a long time ago. I can't be that it is too difficult or too expensive. Someone just isn't trying hard enough. Call me crazy but I just can't believe this can't be engineered.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: May 12th, 2019 10:52 AM

It's really not the difficult. I was guilty of using plastic bags to toss my recycling. I thought plastic bags were recyclable. I guess they are but require special equipment that not all recycling facilities have. Now I do the same as before but I just dump out the contents of the bag into the recycling bin and toss the plastic bag in the trash. It's not a big deal.

Katie Brennan  

Posted: May 11th, 2019 4:18 PM

I urge you to continue to recycle, and we should all spend just a tad more time to read the rules (or call someone who knows) to confirm when we're not sure whether a particular item is recyclable in our towns. Sure, it's an evolving system -- but that doesn't mean that we should just not do it. It's best for the environment, our kids' futures, and our own pocketbooks if we use a little effort to recycle intelligently.

Daniel Oroni  

Posted: May 11th, 2019 3:44 PM

Ok, so no more recycling. Great more free time.

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