socastcmsRssStartBy Cole Lauterbach | Illinois News NetworksocastcmsRssEnd
Illinoisans aren’t recycling as much as their neighbors.
And when they do, they don’t always do it properly, meaning some towns with bad recycling habits could lose their recycling programs or end up paying more to keep them. This is according to a new report showing more of the state’s residents need to start using their recycling bins while experts caution that putting the wrong things in those bins increases the risk of sending everything in the bin to the landfill rather than the recycling center, possibly doing more harm than good.
The Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund report found many of the state’s largest cities have waste diverted away from landfills in lower percentages than the national average.
“Even Naperville, which boasts the highest rate among the most populous Illinois cities at 30 percent, falls below the national average of 34.7 percent,” according to the report.
The worst offenders were the city of Chicago at 9 percent, Springfield at 12 percent, and Champaign at 13 percent.
“There’s a lot we can do,” said Abe Scarr, Illinois’ PIRG director. “A lot of these materials end up in landfills that release global warming pollutants.”
The report didn’t include apartment complex recycling rates, which are lumped in with commercial recycling data. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency didn’t have statewide figures on recycling rates.
Industry experts agree with the report’s call-to-action regarding more material being put in recycling bins, as long as they are the right materials.
“[Contaminated material] runs the risk of contaminating the full load depending upon what that material is,” said Kris Kaar, president of the Illinois Recycling Association.
Many Illinoisans, Kaar said, put contaminated recyclables like grease-stained pizza boxes or bottles containing rotten food into recycling bins. This not only keeps that parcel from being recycled, but runs the risk of contaminating an entire load of otherwise recyclable material
This often leaves sorting facilities with no other option but to send the load to a landfill.
“Anything that is in a truckload, on the floor, or going along the conveyor to be sorted could affect everything else that’s right beside it,” Kaar said.
Because China has removed itself from the market as a receiver of U.S. recyclables to be sorted by low-cost labor, companies like Waste Management, Groot and others have had to hike rates on customers to cover costs of what used to be a money maker. They’re sometimes scrapping the recycling program altogether if the city’s residents can’t stop contaminating their material.
“We’re taking a step back and saying ‘What steps do we need to take to be sure that what is being collected to recycle actually can be recycled and how do we make that an efficient and economical means of doing so?’” Kaar said. “The bottom line is that it’s going to cost more.”
PIRG suggested increasing fees for landfill dumping to discourage waste management companies from dumping recyclables to save money, improve access to apartment complex recycling, and provide state grants to encourage recycling rates.