Honeywell: Recycling success in DeKalb

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a monthly column written by the City of DeKalb’s Citizens’ Environmental Commission that focuses on increased awareness of issues such as promoting projects and ordinance changes involved in recycling, reducing energy consumption, and planting native habitat.

Look down any residential street of DeKalb on a garbage and recycling day and you’ll see a majority of private addresses with a recycling bin next to their garbage can.

This is a welcome level of success that has built up over many years as residents turned a vital need into a habit. But are we following the recycling rules of our waste hauler, Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS)?

Many of us wish to be conscientious about recycling all our paper products, but not all paper can be recycled. Did you know you can’t recycle fluorescent paper? It will contaminate the paper stream with dyes. How about paper towels and napkins if they’re clean? No, because their fibers are too small to reuse to make new paper products.

One of the main issues about recycling is the need to have a buyer. If a paper mill won’t accept a product then it can’t be added to the recycling bin. This is the reason you can’t recycle frozen food boxes: they’re made of a hybrid of paper and plastic that can’t be separated easily for remanufacturing.

And did you know?-- Metal can lids should be placed separately in bins, not inside the cans. However, we should keep the screw-on tops in place on plastic bottles and jars. On the other hand, we can recycle our aerosol cans but the caps and nozzles have to be discarded first.

How about aluminum? All aluminum cans are welcome but leave them whole, not crushed. Clean aluminum foil must be compacted into 2″ or larger balls, and no flat foil is accepted.

Every color of glass is accepted for recycling; however, you can’t add your broken bakeware or coffee pots, and all lids must be added separately. And when it comes to plastic you can recycle just about every type of bottle, tub, jug, and jar. Rinsed milk, soup, and juice cartons are also accepted, however, don’t flatten them.

Overall, everything put in the recycling bin must be clean.

And what if you don’t follow these guidelines?

First, you can negatively affect the efforts of many of your neighbors. Recycling is compressed into bundles that may weigh hundreds of pounds of collected material. If refuse contaminates the bundle it can end up in the landfill. Second, unacceptable items, such as plastic grocery bags, can clog and damage recycling equipment.

This is just a portion of the many items you can—and cannot—recycle with LRS. For a complete list, visit their website at

But recycling isn’t enough; we also need to speak of the other two “Rs” of our circular motto: Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, reducing plastic consumption as well as repurposing plastic already on hand has become more important than ever. When the pandemic struck in the early months of 2020, we heard the alarm sounded about the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Most medical PPE, vital in the hospital setting, is currently made of single-use plastic which can take decades to centuries to decompose. Each resident can help address this growing mountain of plastic by avoiding adding more. Reuse plastic containers when possible, switch to paper bags, and then recycle as much as possible.

DeKalb is on the right track. Let’s keep up the good work by doing even better.