Editorial: Let's up our game on recycling

  • What's in your bin? Check that it meets guidelines as recycling processors get pickier about what they'll accept.

      What's in your bin? Check that it meets guidelines as recycling processors get pickier about what they'll accept. Mark WelsH | Staff Photographer

Posted1/2/2019 4:41 PM

People in the suburbs have been recycling for decades, often putting out big bins of paper, plastic, glass and aluminum that dwarf the garbage cans on collection day.

But recycling has hit a bit of a rough patch, with pickier buyers of recyclables and fewer markets for them, our reporter Mick Zawislak wrote on Monday. Meanwhile, the Better Government Association reported on recyclables in Chicago that ended up in landfills.

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That's discouraging, but it's no reason to give up on recycling.

Now is the time to step it up, in spite of those tough and troubling trends. But we need to get better at choosing what goes into the recycling bin to help make our recyclables more attractive to processors.

At the same time, let's harness the mindset that got us recycling in the first place and learn some new habits to cut down on single-use products.

"Aspirational recycling" -- putting stuff in the bin because it feels like the right thing to do -- shows the right spirit but sometimes the wrong action. A lot of recyclable material goes to China, which has cut back sharply on the amount of contamination it will accept. Gunky pizza delivery boxes and dirty peanut butter jars don't make the grade, and they raise costs for local processors, who must remove those items. Take a look at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's latest recycling guidelines at www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/waste-management/Pages/recycling.aspx.

Instead of putting your Styrofoam takeout containers in your curbside recycling where they don't belong, think about ways to stop using those products.


Relying on reusable shopping bags and water bottles have become everyday habits for many people. Reusable takeout containers can become just as commonplace, and it's an easy way to cut down a lot on waste. Collapsible silicone containers are compact and inexpensive ways to cart your food home.

And push for recycling in multifamily and commercial buildings, where recycling rates are much lower than for single-family homeowners.

Need help? Plenty of local resources are online, and you can get pointers in person from groups like Green Drinks McHenry County, where people get together for drinks and to share information. A recent topic was "Planning Your Zero Waste Year."

Recycling has been a starting point, and shows the relative ease in changing habits to meet a common goal. Now it's time for the next steps. That's a New Year's resolution that's easy to keep.

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