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  • Lia Fiffles

Rethink Recycling Interns Dive into Bins to Help Residents Understand Guidelines

By Lia Fiffles Each day, recycling guidelines and practices seem to become more and more confusing. The City of Lake Forest’s Rethink Recycling campaign aims to make them easy to understand. The Rethink Recycling campaign was launched in 2020 when the City of Lake Forest collaborated with the Lake Forest Garden Club, a recycling processor and a local graphic design company. Since then, it has taken on an animated spokesperson, Bart the Cart, to help communicate the campaigns goals – which are also articulated by two of the Rethink Recycling campaign’s interns, Clara Goshgarian, and Pauline Droege. The key goals are to bring down the contamination rates within Lake Forest and to educate the citizens on the current guidelines. This is done by performing cart checks for the residents.

Rethink Recycling interns Pauline Droege (left) and Clara Goshgarian share helpful information on recycling practices. “This entails going through each cart out on the curb and taking out the contaminants that we find,” said Goshgarian, an environmental geoscience major and Spanish minor at Smith College. “Once we do this, we bag the contaminants in a brown bag with an informational sheet where we mark what contamination was present and how to correct this for the future.”

Acquiring information about the current recycling practices was necessary for figuring out ways to improve them.

“Plastic film and wrappers such as plastic Amazon envelopes as well as plastic bags, bubble wrap and food wrappers are commonly found,” said Droege, who noted these should be taken to Jewel-Osco or Target for plastic drop-off or to the recycling center on Route 60 in Lake Forest. “We also find many unclean items or items with food left in them. Recyclables need to be thoroughly rinsed, clean and empty.”

Another item commonly found in the bins is plastic straws which, Goshgarian said, cannot be recycled due to their lightweight character; they are unable to pass through a mechanical recycling sorter.

These instances bring up the question of whether these recycling practices are due to a lack of knowledge or other factors.

“Both,” Droege said. “A lot of residents are surprised by what they can’t recycle, but some are put off by the inconvenience of recycling, such as rinsing containers. Individuals also like the convenience of single-use plastic items, which easily end up in the wrong bin.”

With the seemingly common confusion surrounding the guidelines for recycling, Goshgarian and Droege have realized the importance in fully understanding them.

“Paying attention to the information on the stickers given to residents by the city explaining what can and can’t be recycled, looking at, and following the social media accounts allows us to be aware of intricacies that we might not have known or noticed before,” Goshgarian said. Pop ups are available -- most commonly in Market Square, where Goshgarian, Droege, and other members of the team are available to talk and answer questions about the campaign. Additionally, pop ups occur at places like Forest Park Beach, the splash pad in Townline Community Park, and numerous community camps such as Twigs, All Stars and McCormick. Contamination rates have decreased in Lake Forest, but there is always room for improvement.

“The interns cannot spot check every house over the summer each year so there are some houses and streets that have never been audited, allowing us to inform them for the first time,” Goshgarian said.

One of the more challenging parts of their work is attempting to educate those who do not want to be educated. Yet, the campaign continues to work to do its best in achieving what it set out to do.

“We’ve had some great conversations with homeowners on the changes they’ve made since this program started, which makes this internship so rewarding,” Droege said.

1 Comment

Sep 06, 2023

The interns cannot possibly do more than point out the shortcomings of the recycling practices of a handful of residents during the summer. Either the city has to commit to the expense of additional sorting and cleaning, or to a lot more reeducation than the cutesy “Bart the Cart”, single sheet campaign. I am one who is not happy with the sight of two young people digging through my recycling bin at the street and leaving me notes and dirty trash, however well meaning, about how well I should have rinsed this jar or broken down that box! Often, it’s my household help or my children who did not measure up, to start with.

There has to be a more…

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