Lake Zurich pilot polystyrene recycling program gaining traction
Recycling options for many materials are abundant in Lake County, but finding a green solution for one common product has been a challenge.
Polystyrene is used to make white foam blocks for packaging to protect appliances, electronics and other items. Some food service containers also are made of polystyrene, commonly referred to by the trademarked brand name Styrofoam.
Unlike paper or other plastics, general recycling facilities don't want polystyrene and it isn't supposed to be put in the curbside containers.
It can go in the trash, but that's not a good option for the environmentally minded. So it piles up in basements and garages instead.
"People don't know what to do with it," said Walter Willis, executive director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County.
Lake Zurich officials recognized the issue and launched a pilot drop-off program for No. 6 foam, the recycling designation for polystyrene.
"There's a void of places to go with this stuff," said village Trustee Marc Spacone, who introduced the idea to the full board. Spacone, a middle school principal, began considering other common materials while cutting up cardboard for recycling in his garage.
"I'm always trying to think how we can be more ecologically friendly," he said.
The result, led by Kyle Kordell, assistant to the village manager, was a limited drop-off program, only the second in Lake County. The first debuted in Highland Park in October 2015.
More than 8,150 pounds of foam -- the equivalent of 920,000 16-ounce foam coffee cups -- have been recycled since the drop-off opened, according to the city's website.
As in Highland Park, Lake Zurich partnered with Pactiv Evergreen and Dart Container Corp. Pactiv provides a 22.5-foot-long, 8-foot wide storage container -- kind of a scaled-down semitrailer -- that sits in the parking lot behind American Legion Post 964 downtown, just north of village hall.
From noon to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and 9 to 11 a.m. Fridays, a volunteer opens the container. Drop-off times were expanded beginning in September to include 10 a.m. to noon the first Saturday of every month.
There is no cost to residents or the village, Spacone said.
"It's gained its own legs and people have really been taking advantage of it," he said.
Once the container is full, Dart takes the material to its recycling center in North Aurora, where contaminants are removed and the foam is compacted to be recycled for use in picture frames or pens, for example.
In Lake Zurich, three containers have been filled since the program began in April and a fourth is filling fast.
"We're dipping our toes in and see if the community embraces it -- and they have," Kordell said.
Kordell said 15 to 20 cars stop by during a typical day, but that's scratching the surface.
"Most people don't know there's a (polystyrene) recycling opportunity," he added.
Lake Zurich resident Carla Nelson, who drops off a batch of polystyrene about every three weeks, was among the visitors Friday morning.
"I'm always into taking care of the environment, whatever I can do," she said. "I let my friends and family know. I've got stuff from my daughter."
Kordell said the village would expand the drop-off service if volunteers come forward.
"We're making a dent," he said.
"A long way to go, but you've got to start somewhere."