Stricter Recycling Rules Announced In Oak Park

OAK PARK, IL — The Village of Oak Park is now enforcing stricter recycling rules. The new rules, which go into effect starting Monday, May 6, are being enforced to combat cart contamination, the village said.

Waste Management, which provides refuse and recycling services for all Oak Park residential properties of five or fewer units, will stop emptying recycling carts that contain common contaminants such as plastic bags, soiled food containers and non-recyclables like Styrofoam, garden hoses and propane tanks.

Beginning May 6, warning stickers will be put on recycling carts that contain items that can't be recycled. After a two-week warning period, haulers will not empty carts until the contaminants are removed by the resident – ideally by the next weekly collection cycle.

"Contaminants in recycling carts are making it increasingly difficult for haulers to offer the service as the market for the raw materials keeps getting smaller," said Environmental Services Manager Cameron Hendricks, who oversees Oak Park's refuse and recycling collection programs.

"People may think they are doing the right thing by tossing anything paper, plastic or metal into the recycling cart rather than the trash," he said. "But unless we give some thought to what we are putting in the bin we may be creating big problems for commercial recyclers that could eventually be forced to reduce services or charge more."

Hendricks said consumers tend to view recycling as a service, while hauling contractors see it is a business. So as overseas markets for raw recyclables have dried up, the tedious and dangerous task of removing contaminants like plastic bags are making it increasingly difficult and expensive for haulers to maintain a viable recycling business, he said.

By some estimates, as much as 25 percent of the recycling stream is contaminated by items that either must be removed by hand at a recycling center or diverted to landfills, the village said. Reports of communities across the country abandoning recycling all together are becoming increasingly common as markets for raw recycling materials have shrunk and processing costs have soared to achieve the low contamination levels now required by buyers of raw recyclables.

"Recycling right requires education and individual effort," said Oak Park Sustainability Coordinator Mindy Agnew. "We have to make a conscious effort to be sure packaging and containers are not only recyclable, but also clean and dry before they go into the cart.

"Tossing in just one or two soiled or non-recyclable items is all it takes to contaminate a cart. Frankly, it is better to throw something into the trash bin when you are not sure than to risk ruining the entire contents of the recycling cart."

Oak Park residents served under the village refuse hauling contract have more options available than most communities to help reduce the typical contaminants found in recycling carts, Agnew said.

The village offers at-your-door pick up of electronics and common hazardous household waste, including cleaning solutions and vehicle fluids, she said. In addition, participants in Oak Park's composting program can toss most soiled paper food containers like pizza boxes into the composting cart.

Foam containers and plastic bags remain a challenge, Agnew said, but clean plastic bags can be returned to most major grocery and big-box stores for proper recycling. The village also has a bag fee in place to encourage residents to rely on reusable bags.

"It would be wonderful if technology could miraculously sort our refuse into nice, neat little bundles for recycling. Maybe someday it will. But right now, it is up to us as custodians of the community and the planet to do our part to reduce and reuse. It is not always easy, but I know with a few small changes in behavior we can do it," Agnew said.

Last year in Oak Park, haulers collected about 4,300 tons of household recyclables and 3,600 tons of food scraps and yard waste for composting, the village said. Another 78 tons of household hazardous waste materials were collected from more than 1,900 at-your-door pickups.

Residences served by the village's waste hauler pay either $25 or $27.51 per month, depending on the size and number of refuse carts. The municipal hauling contract includes unlimited recycling services, with most properties having a single 64-gallon recycling cart. An additional fee is required to participate in the composting program, but neighbors can share the cost.

The village currently is in the second year of a five-year contract with Waste Management, with fees appearing on property owner's quarterly water bills.

For more information on how to recycle right, including tips, fact sheets and links to how-to videos, visit