What exactly can you recycle? Lake County pilot program aims to explain
A down market for recyclables is prompting some involved with the industry to ask consumers to be more selective in what they toss in bins.
"We've got to get people to recycle right," says Walter Willis, head of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County.
"We used to be able to export some of the stuff and not have it as clean. That's changed."
While recycling keeps a lot of material out of landfills, a lot of what is tossed by consumers in recycling bins or carts actually is trash, Willis said.
Plastic bags or Styrofoam containers, for example, are the biggest recycling no-nos.
Recycled materials last year fetched about $70 per ton, but that has dropped to $30 a ton, Willis explained. Basically, China and other overseas markets for bales of recycled materials, including paper and plastic, have become pickier in what they will accept.
In turn, material recovery facilities, known as "MRFs," have fixed costs to process recyclables. And with the value dropping below cost, they are having to charge to make a profit, Willis said.
"All the MRFs across the county know they have to reduce the amount of contamination in their bales," Willis said. "Residents and businesses have to reduce contamination in order to reduce costs."
Education is considered a key. Waste Management, in cooperation with Lake County's waste agency and the village of Round Lake Beach, got the ball rolling last week with a pilot "recycling contamination reduction program" involving 750 of the 7,300 household recycling customers.
Every cart got a sticker outlining recycling guidelines. In addition, recycling carts with unwanted material were tagged by drivers, although the carts were emptied -- this time. Homeowners were directed to https://recycleoftenrecycleright.com/ to learn more.
"We call it the 'Oops' tag or 'Sorry' tag," Willis said. Those households will be checked twice more before the program moves to other parts of town.
"What we hope to see is the contamination rate go way down," he said.
And there is room to improve.
An audit at the Waste Management recycling facility in Grayslake showed 33 percent of material collected at the curb in Round Lake Beach was not recyclable, according to village Administrator Dave Kilbane.
"This is an extremely high number considering the fact over 90 percent of community households are placing recycling collection containers at the curb each collection day," he said.
The goal of the program is to assist the residents in becoming more aware of what is recyclable and what is not, he said.