Do you live on or off the recycling grid?
Household recycling began years ago with drop-off programs. Anybody could participate, but consumers had to drive their recyclables to drop-off sites.
Efficiency evolved over the years toward curbside programs. Today, most households can set recyclables in one bin alongside their trash at the curb for pickup. Today this is known as “source-separated, single-stream” recycling, and it has made the curbside recycle bin almost universal.
Despite its clear success, this recycling grid ignores a large portion of a city’s household trash stream.
Nearly one in four housing units in La Salle County are occupied by renters, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.
Trash haulers typically are not contracted by cities to serve apartment complexes above a minimum size, such as three or four units. Trash pickup for most apartments is dictated by landlords’ private waste contracts.
This means renters willing to recycle will have to look for convenient drop-off sites, which have dwindled in the face of the curbside system.
The city of Princeton has a drive-through recycling drop-off center that is open 24/7 across from 1105 N Euclid Ave. You don’t have to be a city resident to use it, said Steve Wright, Princeton’s superintendent of streets and sanitation.
In Princeton, apartments with four or more units don’t get curbside service, he said. The drop-off center gives those residents the option to recycle cardboard, glass, plastics, tin and aluminum cans, and paper, Wright said.
The city also uses its own trucks to pick up curbside recycling. It gets dumped at the recycling drop-off, where Illinois Valley Waste Services Inc. picks it up and hauls it away to Rockford, Wright said.
“We just break even because we don’t have to pay for the trucking,” he said. “If we had to pay for the trucking to take it all the way up there it wouldn’t be profitable.”
Recyclables from curbside plus drop-offs in Princeton averages 4.6 tons per day, Wright said. The amount from each source was not available, he said.
The biggest recyclable in Princeton is cardboard. There are fewer aluminum cans than expected because people redeem them at scrap yards for money, he said.
Aluminum is king
In La Salle, many residents take aluminum cans to Buckman Iron and Metal Co., which accepts most metals and pays for aluminum. Buckman also will pay for iron if you have 200 or more pounds, an amount most households will not accumulate. But Buckman accepts all metal.
Aluminum cans pay well enough to support fundraising drives. For example, the public library in Spring Valley is collecting aluminum cans, and Charles Crass of La Salle collects aluminum cans at his home at 1458 Fifth St. (U.S. 6) to benefit United Way.
Finding drop-offs for materials such as glass and plastic is tough, because these materials don’t enjoy the market payback of metals.
“That’s what it comes down to,” Buckman manager Shawn Harre said. “Even if someone drops off paper I still have to handle it and bail it and ship it.”
Princeton’s drop-off is self-serve, not staffed. Consumers are expected to follow directions. Therein lies the difficulties with drop-offs, Wright said. Staffing is expensive, and some consumers sneak regular garbage into the recycling pile.
In December, the city of Princeton discovered other trash being dumped there and explored installing more lighting and surveillance. The same problem happened a year ago at the Village of Granville’s recycling drop-off on High Street.
Finding other ways
Many curbside programs also ignore small businesses, said Marta Keane, president of Illinois Recycling Association.
“That depends on the municipal contract but in the vast majority of municipal contracts, it is not covered,” she said.
One problem with apartments is high turnover rate of residents. Curbside recycling education for every tenant becomes challenging, she said.
There are a few exceptions around the state, she said. The city of St. Charles now offers recycling to every residential unit, from apartments to homes.
Also, private apartments and businesses have the option of contracting for recycling, which in turn would reduce the tonnage of trash they are billed for, Keane said.
“In the long run it doesn’t pay for itself but it lowers the garbage bill,” she said. “It’s usually in the best interest to have it.”
LeeAnn Harn, office manager for Affordable Waste, Dixon, said the cut-off for curbside in Dixon is four-or-less units per site. Recycling can be set up for larger apartments, but that translates to additional charges to the landlord, Harn said. Like Princeton, Dixon has a recycling drop-off for those not served by the curbside program, she said.
The poor economy since 2008 also has led to more trash dumping at recycling drop-off sites. That’s because it costs to throw away some items, like large appliances and construction material, and rural residents can’t afford to contract for trash pickup, Keane said.
Of course, the benefits of recycling that got this movement going decades ago still apply today.
“The impact that recycling makes, you actually save energy when you recycle,” Keane said.
Recycling aluminum, glass and steel always saves energy compared to making the raw product again, she said.
Wiring often contains copper and brass and Buckman will pay 10-15 cents a pound, Harre said.
“Christmas lights,” she said. “It’s not something people think to recycle. They just throw it away.”
Plastic shopping bags can be dropped off at some stores. Check for bins just inside entrances.
You can’t throw electronic appliances into the trash in Illinois. Buckman accepts those, as does Goodwill and several other sites. However, not all places take TVs. The cities of Oglesby and Peru hold periodic electronic recycling days. For more on electronics visit www.epa.state.il.us/land/electronic-waste-recycling.
Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or firstname.lastname@example.org.