• adriennewfawcett

A Tale of Two Recycling Facilities

Do you recycle the tops and lids of plastic and glass containers? The rules vary from town to town, including between Lake Bluff and Lake Forest.

The recycling company that the Village of Lake Bluff contracts with advises people to remove lids from recyclables -- except for plastic containers; Groot Industries says it’s OK to leave caps on containers made of plastic. Lake Foresters, meanwhile, are being advised to put the lids back on all recyclable containers – glass and plastic alike.

This is on my mind because the City of Lake Forest this week launched an education campaign to get people to rethink what they put into their recycling bins. It’s a public-private endeavor produced with funds donated by the Lake Forest Garden Club and created by local design talent Marcus Norman.

Why does one recycling firm hired by one city want the lids on, and another recycling firm hired by the village next door want them off? And why do you have to go to the trouble of putting the caps back ON -- (to repeat in Lake Bluff just plastic jugs and in Lake Forest both plastic and glass containers)? Why can't you just throw the lid into the recycling bin separately from the container? I posted these questions on Facebook and got a variety of answers:

  • top on keeps any rinse water from leaking onto paper and helps keep glass rims from cracking

  • tops are now ok because they pop off when container is flattened by machinery

  • tops are not mandatory on containers, just preferred

  • I thought it was because the loose lids get caught in the machinery, no?

  • From the plastics industry - so they float during sorting....

  • It’s to protect people sorting the recycling from getting cut by broken glass

Then I searched Google and found that the plastics industry has been saying it’s OK to recycle plastic tops and lids since 2010! (A whole decade has passed with my Lake Bluff family tossing plastic lids into the regular trash bin because we have been following the rules we learned in the mid-2000s from the town in New Jersey where we used to live!)

I placed a call to Groot to ask about the recycling procedures there and why they ask their clients to remove lids from non-plastic containers. I’m guessing it has something to do with how Groot processes the material. (I will update this story when (if?) Groot calls me back.0

In Lake Bluff, put the top back on plastic bottles and place in the recycling bin but remove glass container lids before recycling. In Lake Forest, put the lids back onto plastic and glass containers. In both communities you need to clean it all before dropping in the bin!

I also called the City of Lake Forest and spoke at length with Jim Lockefeer Jr., management analyst for the city’s Public Works Department. He walked me through Lake Forest’s recycling process but couldn't answer the “Why Lids and Tops On?” question, so he kindly offered to call the company that Lake Forest hires to process recyclables.

First: how does Lake Forest’s recycling program work? Lockefeer explained that the city has its own recycling trucks that go around once a week to pick up (from the curb) materials that residents have put into 65-gallon recycling carts. The trucks compact the material and haul it to the city’s compost center off of Route 60.

The city’s compost center has a transfer station and transfer ramp. The compacted material is dumped into the transfer station and pushed into a semi-tractor/trailer owned and operated by Resources Management, a recycling processing company. When the semi is full, Resources Management hauls the recyclable material to its own facility, where it sorts everything by hand and by machine.

The goal of Lake Forest’s Rethink Recycling public education campaign is to get people to be mindful of what they put in their bins so that the City can save money on recycling costs – up to $50,000 a year. (Click here to read all about Rethink Recycling and its spokes-character Bart the Cart).

But why does Resources Management want the lids and tops? And why do they want them put back on and not just tossed in separately? What Lockefeer learned is this:

1. In the past, tops and lids created issues with the processing side of things, but the facilities and procedures have changed and there is no longer an issue with the caps being on

2. There is a market for recyclable materials, so the city’s recycling processing firm wants all the material it can get

3. They want people to put the tops and lids back on containers because it makes it easier on their end to sort it all

“It all starts with recycling markets as a whole and whether there is there a market to sell it,” said Lockefeer after he spoke with Resources Management. “There has been a market switch. Originally there was no market for lids and bottle caps because earlier some of it wasn’t recyclable. Now it is, and If they can capture and it and recycle it, they want it.”