Recycling? Don’t Be So Sure

With the new year about here, we can all make some resolutions about recycling. Even the best curbside recycling programs gather perhaps 40 percent of the material that could be gathered (because citizens will not provide more) and, of that, a good portion ends up as contaminated material that must be trashed anyway or is too poor in quality to be returned to the shelves as the product it was.

That is down-cycling, only a delay before the material is trash. We should be far more concerned about the quality of our recycling program than we are about a debate over who does the collecting.

A new report out produced by the Container Recycling Institute, Understanding economic and environmental impacts of single-stream collection systems” (available at brings sobering news about the “single-stream” recycling programs like the one we have in Evanston.

Though most Evanstonians may believe that everything that they put in their recycling toter is going to be processed for re-use, in fact a good deal of it ends up as trash or down-cycled. There is nothing in the contract between Groot and the City that requires the material collected to be recycled, even though an annual report is made of how much is recycled.

What can turn recycling into nothing more than an extended trip to the landfill is contamination, either from folks putting things in that should not be in the toters or from the crushing and mixing of acceptable materials in the trucks that creates a contaminated mess that is difficult or impossible to separate.

A perfect example of how we citizens help defeat the program is the widespread practice of plastic-bagging recycling. Plastic bags are not acceptable, but are never refused for pickup. The result at the reprocessing facility is that every single plastic bag must be opened and emptied in order to allow the contents to separate on the processing line. Plastic bags jam mechanical equipment as well. Workers
to do the un-bagging are required because we don’t follow rules.

I live in a condo building that has eight recycling toters. Each week I break down boxes, compact carelessly tossed materials and remove non-recyclables so I have a pretty good idea of what happens in the program at the curb end.

People throw everything from clothes hangers to styrofoam to blocks of wood in the toters even though each toter has a label under the lid that indicates what is acceptable material. Half-filled bottles
and cans are thrown in, even though any liquid is dead weight that must be hauled (at our expense) only to eventually go down a drain.

Streets and Sanitation will tell you the Groot truck drivers will not take toters with unacceptable materials, but I have not once seen this happen. Drivers have stickers they can place on toters to indicate unacceptable materials are inside. I’ve never seen them place a tag.

I called Groot and was told that tagging of bins and inspection of contents slow down collection. Also, having pickups refused tends to anger residents, and who wants angry residents complaining?

It is easier to simply pick up everything and send things to the landfill if necessary. After all, who will know? Groot is a garbage hauler, too, so they can handle it. The result is that you and I, the citizens of the City, pick up the tab and, since we do not see what goes on after pickup, we think everything appears to be going fine. Wow!

The recycling guys are picking up
everything. Great! As our recycling degrades toward garbage it still be taken away. Why not if we pay for it?

I have implored our City’s Streets and Sanitation department to inform citizens of the need to take care about what goes in the toters, but have met only apathy, irritation and then strong resistance with claims about what a good job is being done.

A long train of e-mails, copied to my alderman, finally got a single reminder of what to put into the toters placed in the Highlights newsletter that the City publishes (in the fall of 2008). There are so many ways the City could publicize “Do Recycling Right!” without extra expense by putting notices at the Civic Center or on auto registration stickers as two examples. As it is, you won’t see a word about it.

How about NU football game recycling along Central Street? There are hundreds of pounds of aluminum and brown (beer bottle) glass that could be recycled but instead are picked up as trash by the City.

This has gone on for years and years without comment. Not our problem – “No can do” says Streets and Sanitation, because it would require overtime. Placing five blue toters out next to City garbage cans during the game season to be emptied by Groot requires overtime? I don’t understand it. I roll around a toter and do it myself as a result, a shameful thing for a citizen of a City of 80,000 to have take on all by himself.

This letter is an appeal to everyone to use care in recycling. Glance over the report mentioned above. Check under the blue toter lid for the rules. The truth is that dual-stream programs that require the citizen to do a separation of paper from everything else end up collecting less material but produce more recycled material.

With Evanston’s program, you, the citizen, are flying blind and nobody is going to enlighten you since you pay willingly.

Gross tons collected do not tell the whole story, and we don’t hear about what isn’t recycled.
                                    – Clif Brown

Waste at District 65


With all the talk of budget cuts and closing libraries, I am wondering about the taxes I pay to School District 65.

In my neighborhood, I have seen a School District van parked in front of a neighbor’s house for several hours during the day, a large School District truck used to deliver toys for the neighbors’ kids, and another van used to pick up and drop off their kids.

Apparently the School District vehicles are being used for personal transportation, and the employees must not be too busy if they can take three-hour lunches.

Has a hard look been taken to the bloating at the school district? Why do community services have to be cut when such rampant waste is tolerated?

I feel that I speak for a lot of Evanstonians who are weary of the mismanagement and lack of accountability in City government and services.

We are a hopeful lot, so we look forward to a New Year in which city government is responsive to community concerns. Thank you.
                                    – A.T. Chavois