Elgin business owner Ken Santowski estimates he spends more than $10,000 each year in gas and man hours to haul foam products to a recycling facility in North Aurora -- and most of it is not even his.
Santowski, who owns Chicago Logistic Service, a trucking company, collects the foam for free from three drop-off locations in Lakewood, where he lives and serves as a trustee. He just started doing the same for a drop-off location in Algonquin, and his business serves as a drop-off facility for foam recycling.
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"I'm trying to be environmentally friendly," Santowski said. "We do it, me and my employees, all on the job."
For the last two years, Santowski has been taking the foam materials he collects -- think packaging, cups, trays -- to Dart Container Corporation in North Aurora. That's a relatively short trip compared to the 120-mile round trip he did for years to haul it to a recycling company in Thornton, near the Indiana border.
Algonquin senior planner Katie Parkhurst said the village is fortunate that Santowski offered his free services.
"He cares enough that he wants to do it, and he's not even a resident of Algonquin," Parkhurst said. Waste Management, the village's garbage operator, has provided recycling bins at the village's public works facility, 110 Meyer Drive. Santowski is in charge of emptying the bins when they're full and take their contents to the recycling facility.
The program will be in place until Jan. 31, and might be extended if successful, she said. "Most places won't do anything with Styrofoam so, unfortunately, it ends up in landfills," Parkhurst said. "He's using his time and expense to do it."
Santowski jokes that his laziness is the reason he started recycling plastic foam 20 years ago, when he worked for United Van Lines.
"I would put it in the garbage, and every time the wind came by that was the first thing that blew away. I got sick and tired of picking it up ... so I found a (recycling) business to take it to," he said.
His company recycles 60 to 70 percent of its waste, including plastic, paper, aluminum and more, said Santowski, who is also a member of the nonprofit group Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and helps staff its monthly pickups. At home, his family of four throws out only one bag of garbage per week, he said.
"He's the recycling guru," said Diane Harty, a teacher at Abbot Middle School in Elgin, whose students and staff help recycle Styrofoam lunch trays. After the program started two years ago, the school has decreased its garbage output by 75 percent, from 16 to 4 bags per day. "We are really fortunate to have him in our team, and in our community."