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  • Adrienne Fawcett

Bart the Cart Explains What You Can – and Cannot – Recycle in Lake Forest

By Adrienne Fawcett

Since Lake Forest launched its Rethink Recycling program in the spring of 2020, campaign spokes-mascot Bart the Cart has become a recognizable fixture in town, and recycling compliance by residents has improved. But as the two-year marketing and education program heads into its final months, residents have more work to do to help the city save taxpayer dollars.

Primarily, they need to be more selective in what they put in their recycling bins.

Since Bart the Cart entered the scene, contamination in Lake Forest's recycled material has decreased to 18%.

Before Bart the Cart was created, 90% of Lake Foresters were “active recyclers.” It turns out they just needed to be more careful about it.

“There are a lot of bad habits when it comes to recycling,” says Public Works Superintendent Dan Martin.

He blames it on “wish-cycling.”

By that he means there’s a lot of wishful thinking that prompts people to put stuff in recycling bins that they think is recyclable or hope might be so. For examples, he cites aluminum gutters (if beer cans are OK, why not the gutter?), or an oily pizza box (well, it’s cardboard!), or an unrinsed Starbucks cup (but it’s empty!).

None of those things is recyclable in Lake Forest, and their presence in bins contaminates everything around them, rendering those items un-recyclable as well.

Before Rethink Recycling started in 2020, 25% of Lake Forest’s recycled material was contaminated by soiled or non-recyclable substances like those cited above and more. Since Bart entered the scene, contamination has decreased to 18%. The goal is to get to 10% contamination by next spring when the Rethink Recycling campaign winds down.

The Lake Forest Garden Club is the nexus of the Rethink Recycling education effort, as it provided the City of Lake Forest with a $110,000 grant for the two-year program. Norman Design Co. was brought on board, and Bart the Cart was created to educate Lake Foresters to be more selective in what they recycle.

Bart has become ubiquitous. His image and message are communicated through multiple local channels, including a website, social media, videos, print newsletters, emails, ads, education resources, guidelines stuck to the inside of recycling bins, and more. There’s even an oversized Bart mascot, which has been especially popular at local events.

“When Bart the Cart was at the beach, or in town, or in the Lake Forest Day Parade, people were waving to him and calling out ‘Hey Bart!’,” recalls Martin. “They wanted to high-five him and take photos with him. A big highlight for us was seeing how recognizable he was as a brand.”

Bart drives home four simple guidelines to help improve contamination rates at Lake Forest’s recycling facility:

1. Empty and rinse recyclables and put the lids and caps back on

2. No plastic bags

3. No Styrofoam

4. No tanglers such as hangers, cords or strings

The end goal is pretty simple: Going from 25% to 10% contamination will save the city $50,000 annually, says Marcus Norman of Norman Design Co.

Bart is doing his share to help the City of Lake Forest get this message out. All you have to do is be more selective in what you put in your bins. To learn more, visit


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