• Kim Piekos

Center of Attention: Compost and Recycling Spot Draws Regulars and Plenty of Unwanted Materials

By Kim Piekos

One of the many benefits of becoming a Lake Forest resident is access to its Compost & Recycling Center -- affectionately referred to as “the dump.” Located on 17 acres west of Waukegan Road on Route 60, the center is a frequent weekend destination for Lake Foresters.

“From an old Sunfish sailboat on a trailer to brand new lawnmowers and generators, we’ve seen it all and then some,” says Sanitation Supervisor Brian Pogachnik. “It’s very popular,” says Sanitation Supervisor Brian Pogachnik. “We have regulars. Some folks come over in the morning, bring a cup of coffee or a soda to the attendant and enjoy some conversation. Our guys get to know them by name.” One is resident Don McKiernan. “Being able to take almost anything there is invaluable.” he says. “We unload our things and load up on compost and woodchips for free. It’s so convenient and a fun place to run into people we know.”

The stipulation for getting into the Compost & Recycling Center? A Lake Forest sticker on your car. “The attendant at the gate turns away anyone without a sticker, including contractors working on Lake Forest homes,” notes Pogachnik, a 25-year employee who supervises refuse collection, recycling, yard waste and the Compost & Recycling Center. He adds that no rental trucks or trailers are allowed.

Though the most common drop-off items include recycling materials and construction debris from household projects, the center accepts everything from furniture, electronics, shelving units, clothes, shoes and blankets to batteries, scrap metal, tools, cardboard, lawn mowers and yard waste. “Pretty much anything you need to dispose of, we take,” Pogachnik says. That said, there are exceptions: tires, hazardous chemicals, dehumidifiers, air conditioners and medical waste are not allowed. With many high-quality items dropped off in good condition -- including full dining room sets, collectables and antiques -- the center used to try to donate items to local organizations. But the volume became too overwhelming to try to deliver, and donation centers were too unpredictable about what they wanted and when, notes Dan Martin, Superintendent of Public Works for the City of Lake Forest. The center encourages residents to consider donating well-maintained goods to organizations such as Purple Heart, AMVETS, Goodwill or Salvation Army, who will pick up the items for free from your home. Items can also be posted on Nextdoor or Facebook Marketplace or given to Upscale Rummage in Libertyville.

The Compost & Recycling Center has an elaborate system in place to dispose of residents’ drop-off items. Construction materials, including brick and concrete, go to a landfill in Zion; paper and cardboard go to a company in Gurnee; comingle, which are contents of household recycling bins, gets processed in Chicago Ridge; electronics are processed in Indianapolis; textiles and shoes are picked up by Solid Waste Agency of Lake County and taken to Chicago; scrap metal is sold; plastic bags are recycled into plastic benches and deck treads; and, yard waste is hauled to Antioch, where it is composted in windrows and returned, in part, so residents can use the compost in their gardens.

Part of the fun of working at the center is seeing some unusual things dropped off. “From an old Sunfish sailboat on a trailer to brand new lawnmowers and generators, we’ve seen it all and then some,” laughs Pogachnik.

During the pandemic, the center saw an 18 percent increase in visits in 2021, totaling 32,500. After a short shutdown at the start of the pandemic, nearly 1,000 cars descended upon it. “People were not happy about us having to close, but we had no choice,” says Martin. Now, depending on the weather and the weekend day, the center estimates between 300-500 cars pass through its gates.

Lake Forest residents dropped off 965 tons of refuse in 2021, up nearly 16 percent since pre-Covid days. This included 60 tons of cardboard, a significant increase with more online shopping. The Compost & Recycling Center also collected 1,850 tons of yard waste, 165 tons of scrap metal, 45 tons of electronics and eight tons of textiles and shoes.

“People had time to clean out their closets and garages and work on home projects, indoors and out,” Pogachnik says. “Once people discovered the center, they kept coming back. It feels good to clean out spaces.”

In addition to handling compost and recycling, the center houses excess snow during winter, large logs for the Forestry Section, odd-length pipes and structures used for the Water and Sewer Section’s maintenance and repair and the elevated water tank that houses 1.5 million gallons of water to help pressurize the city’s water system.

The Compost & Recycling Center is open on Saturdays from December through mid-March from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Beginning March 19 through Nov. 27, the center is open on Saturdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Learn more at cityoflakeforest.com/CompostCenter.