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Park patrons attempt to recycle, sometimes miss the mark

Employees of the Naperville Park District and Glen Ellyn-based environmental group SCARCE sort through trash and recyclable materials to determine how well park patrons were recycling over Memorial Day weekend. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Employees of the Naperville Park District and Glen Ellyn-based environmental group SCARCE sort through trash and recyclable materials to determine how well park patrons were recycling over Memorial Day weekend. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

The Naperville Park District quite literally got a mixed bag of results as it performed a waste audit with a local environmental group Wednesday to find out how well park patrons are recycling.

“There are more things in recycling bins now than there were before so it seems like people are trying to recycle things more than they were three years ago,” park district Project Manager Peggy Pelkonen said. “But they are putting the wrong things in.”

Plastic-glove-clad employees from the park district and School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education spent more than an hour Wednesday digging 365.5 pounds of trash and recyclables that came from Central District parks – mostly the garden plots and Sportsman’s Park — over Memorial Day weekend. (See photos)

“It’s a good thing to do anywhere to audit and check on your progress in recycling and what’s going in the landfill and learn if you need to do more education on recycling in the parks,” said Heather Goudreau, an environmental educator with Glen Ellyn-based SCARCE.

The group performs waste audits for businesses, schools and other organizations. SCARCE educator Erin Kennedy said she doesn’t mind digging through trash.

It’s interesting to see the things people throw away,” she said.

Wednesday, that included fast food cups, a scarecrow, yard waste, beer cans, cardboard boxes, shotgun shells from Sportsman’s Park, a propane cylinder and stripping paint, among other items.

Of the materials placed in recycling bins, 18.25 percent was actually recyclable material compared to 43 percent in a 2009 audit.

Of the materials placed in garbage cans, 29.49 percent was actually garbage, 16.88 percent was recyclable material and 53.63 percent was yard waste that should have been placed in a special receptacle. In the 2009 audit, 56 percent was actual garbage, 26 percent was recyclable material and 28 percent was reusable materials – mostly toys that had been discarded.

“When we did it before, people tended more toward sticking everything in the trash,” Pelkonen said. “This year it seemed a little bit the other way.”

After the 2009 audit, the park district placed stickers on the lids of recycling bins to clarify what can be tossed in and moved its garbage and recycling receptacles next to each other.

“If they are separated people aren’t going to walk to two separate areas,” said Goudreau, who was sporting a “Dumpster Diving Team” shirt.

Of the items mistakenly thrown into recycle bins over the weekend, nearly half were shotgun shells and plant containers. Only some of the plant containers are recyclable.

Pelkonen said the park district may put out a separate bin for the plant containers to help avoid confusion and will remind Sportsman’s Park the shotgun shells can’t be recycled.

The park district recycling bins accept plastics with numbers one through five on them, paper, glass, aluminum and cardboard. Styrofoam and plastics without numbers inside a recycling symbol are not accepted.

“It’s our responsibility,” Pelkonen said of the park district’s push for recycling. “Part of our goal is the park district to take care of air, land and water so this fits right into that.”

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