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  • David A.F. Sweet

Compost & Recycling Draws Loads of Discarded Materials -- And a Few Regulars

By David A. F. Sweet

Despite the chilly weather on the last day of 2022, an outdoor spot in Lake Forest welcomed scores of visitors. They arrived in all types of vehicles that Saturday to dispatch of old electronics, fraying shoes – even Christmas wreaths. A City of Lake Forest worker wearing a yellow jacket helped them figure out whether to toss their odds and ends in bins or garbage trucks. Others headed to the southern end of the 17-acre property to dispose of yard waste.

What is this place where even aging grills and unwanted fireplace shovels can find a temporary home? It is the Compost & Recycling Center off of Route 60 – affectionately referred to as “the dump” by long-time residents.

“Time flies by – it’s nonstop activity throughout the day,” says Juan Aguirre about working at the Compost & Recycling Center.

Opened in 1988, the center is one of only three among North Shore towns. Compared to its counterparts in neighboring Lake Bluff and Winnetka, the Lake Forest facility handles the largest variety of materials. During the busy seasons, such as spring cleaning and fall cleanup, the center can see up to 500 vehicles per day. To get in, they must have a Lake Forest sticker on their windshield; possessing a driver’s license with a Lake Forest address is not enough to be granted entry.

Though one might think hanging out around orange traffic cones and hulking bins isn’t the most appealing atmosphere, there are regulars who stop by.

“Some folks come over in the morning, bring a cup of coffee or a soda to the attendant, and enjoy some conversation,” said Brian Pogachnik, Sanitation Supervisor for the City of Lake Forest, who oversees the center. “Our guys get to know them by name.”

One of those is Juan Aguirre, who has worked at the center with others in the Sanitation Section for four years.

“Time flies by – it’s nonstop activity throughout the day,” Aguirre said. One of Aguirre’s favorite parts of working at the center is chatting with residents, especially those who recognize him from his route. “Sometimes they bring my favorite drink (Coke),” he added.

Before covid hit, the center averaged 25,000 visits a year. Since the pandemic began, that number jumped more than 30 percent to 33,000 visits a year.

“It became something that a resident could do outside when everything was shut down inside,” explained Pogachnik, who noted his crew added more garbage trucks and bins to absorb the increase.

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 prompted by increased 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. One trip to the center is allowed per day per resident, unless the Public Works Department has granted an exception.

Where do all of the items end up? Some stay local: for example, plastic bags get recycled by Jewel in Lake Forest. Others are shipped across Lake County: refuse and construction debris, for example, head to a landfill in Zion. And some items are even trucked across state lines, such as electronics, which are recycled in Indianapolis.

This year, there is a new offering: Lake Forest residents can bring their batteries and old cell phones to the center to be recycled. Batteries include single-use alkaline batteries and rechargeable batteries. They should be taped or bagged before being deposited at the center.

There is good reason this new program has been initiated. When batteries are thrown in the trash and end up in landfills, they leak toxic chemicals that can get into aquifers and water supplies, endangering humans and animals. Only four percent of alkaline batteries and less than five percent of lithium batteries are recycled currently.

Lake Forest teen Riya Bhatia came up with the idea. How did she get it implemented? Bhatia approached Reagan Walsh, the City’s staff liaison to the Lake Forest Environmental Sustainability Committee. The committee welcomed Bhatia’s interest in setting up a battery recycling program in Lake Forest. Together with Green Minds, a local organization aimed at making Lake Forest and Lake Bluff more sustainable communities, the City added batteries to the list of items that can be recycled at the center. Lake Forest’s Pogachnik also provided his expertise in setting up the program.

“I want my peers to know that if something is concerning them or feels out of their control, they are capable of making a difference by doing one seemingly small thing,” Bhatia said. “Go for it and stick to it. Kim Piekos contributed to this article. This story originally appeared in the City’s Spring Dialogue Newsletter.

Planning a visit to the Compost Center?

Here’s what you need to know:

· To use the Center, please display a current Lake Forest vehicle sticker. Driver’s licenses will not be accepted as proof of residency.

· Residents may drop off yard waste, unwanted household items, batteries and old cell phones, metal cans, glass, plastics (#1-5, 7), plastic bags, newspapers, magazines, corrugated cardboard, and office paper for recycling.

· Unacceptable items include appliances with CFCs, asbestos, paints, chemicals, tires, and food waste.

· Commercial contractor use and commercial or rented vehicles/trailers are not allowed.

· Residents can drop off two cubic yards (a pick up truck bed worth) of material junk/garbage per day.

Winter Hours (Dec. 1-March 14)

Saturdays, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

Summer Hours (March 15-Nov. 30)

Saturdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sundays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.


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