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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