Foam recycling success in Highland Park
Dennis Cashmore (right) of Gurnee, a Highland Park Public Works employee, recycles that a resident dropped off while Public Works Director Ramesh Kanapareddy surveys the crowd.| Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 9, 2013 1:01PM
HIGHLAND PARK — Even the greenest and most conscientious recyclers can be stumped when it comes to that airy foam packaging used to protect everything from breakable eggs to bulky electronics.
While polystyrene foam isn’t yet accepted in curbside recycling bins in Highland Park and many other communities, the city has accepted the foam, stamped #PS 6, at its drop-off center at 1180 Half Day Road since January of 2011. Participants need not be residents.
On Nov. 16, city leaders and community partners hailed the foam recycling trial a roaring success and handed the credit to the citizens who took to heart the mantra, “Recycle First, Trash Last.”
“Their activism has resulted in 4,417 pounds of foam recycled since the program began,” said Steven Mandel, the Highland Park City Councilman who played a lead role in launching the effort.
“That is 4,417 pounds of foam that has been diverted from our landfills and has been processed and recreated into new materials,” said Mandel. While that may not sound like a lot, since foam is about 95 percent air, that represents the equivalent of 4 1/2, 48-foot-long semi-trucks.
Dart Container has collected the foam from the center. The product can be condensed and recast as other products, some of which were on display. The displayed products included picture frames, plastic rulers and crown moulding. Other uses include egg cartons, packaging “peanuts”, video cassettes, toys and office desk products.
The foam recycling initiative grew out of environmentalists’ calls in 2010 for a ban on the sale and use of polystyrene foam in Highland Park. The movement drew protests from retailers and restaurants who said alternatives were too costly and the ban would hurt businesses in an already troubled environment.
The city teamed up with the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO), Dart Container Company and Pactiv to recycle the products for what originally was to be just a six-month trial.
Foam products, such as packaging, can be dropped off at the Firearms Training Center, 1180 Half Day Road, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. In early January, the city again will have a Holiday Recycling Extravaganza for residents to dispose of the high volume of foam and other recyclables that are part and parcel of the gift-giving season.
Walt Willis, executive director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, said the Highland Park recycling center also has collected about 3.5 million pounds of electronics over the past three years.
“We want to change people’s thinking,” said Willis. “We want them to think about the value of what is in their waste stream. Number 6 foam (polystyrene) is one of the things that has value. As you can see, there are products that can be made from it. We just have to find a way to more effectively collect it.”