Recycling a Way of Life in Kane County

Article excerpt

Byline: Eric Krol Daily Herald Staff Writer

As the decade of greed wound down, a scant 9 percent of all the garbage in Kane County wound up in the recycling bin.

Eight years later, a full 40 percent of county trash is being reused in some fashion.

Call it green fever, call it environmental awareness, but there's little doubt a recycling revolution has taken root in the county.

"In the last presidential election, only 50 percent of (registered voters in) America voted," said Gary Mielke, county recycling coordinator. "We've got 81 percent (of homes) recycling. More people recycle than vote."

County officials say people are recycling largely because it's now easier to do and has become a habit. A big county push for homeowners and businesses to recycle, plus high-profile battles over landfills, also have caused people to pitch in.

Recycling used to be a lot more laborious than it is now.

In the early '80s, Elgin residents Lucy and Mark Elliott used to pack the back seat of their Volkswagen Bug with newspapers and bags of tin cans and drive to a place that would take them.

"Recycling centers were available, but you really had to hunt for them," she said. "It was kind of a trick (to recycle)."

That changed at the dawn of the '90s when towns began adding curbside recycling programs. Homeowners could just put their newspapers, cans and glass containers in a bin and set it out with the trash.

The curbside programs remain in effect in every town from Algonquin down to South Elgin. But towns from St. Charles to Aurora have taken the curbside recycling program a step further.

Instead of paying a monthly garbage bill, homeowners pay for garbage pickup by buying stickers for an average of $1.25 each. The fewer garbage cans left at the curb, the less a homeowner pays. Hence, a greater incentive to recycle.

"The cost of garbage pickup is covered by the cost of the sticker," Mielke said. "You don't need to put a sticker on a recycling bin."

Most Tri-Cities residents have gone from two trash cans a week to one, Mielke said. While the stickers give the illusion that garbage pickup costs less if they recycle more, Mielke said the trash-hauling companies build the cost of recycling into the sticker price.

In addition to recycling becoming just plain easier, it's also become a regular part of most people's lifestyles.

"Many people recycled paper at work, and I think a lot of people asked why not (at home)?" Mielke said.

Children also prodded their parents into being more conscious of the environment after hearing the drumbeat at school.

"Our children pretty much grew up with it," Elgin's Elliott said. "They learned to ask early on whether something could go in the (recycling) bin."

The county also got involved in the recycling push, getting the responsibility for solid waste planning from the state in the late '80s following a crisis over a lack of landfill space. As part of the county's plan, garbage companies had to provide recycling to residents to get a license.

As of 1996, Kane ranked third in the state in recycling at 38 percent of its trash, behind DeKalb County's 44 percent and LaSalle County's 39 percent. …