Naperville’s Recycling Program Leaves Money At Curbside

It doesn’t seem like Naperville’s recycling program is working as good as it could. When the program was first rolled out by the city, it looked really impressive. Residents were given the choice of three sizes (96-gallon, 64-gallon, and 32-gallon) beautiful blue rolling recycling carts. I think I chose the 64-gallon size, I really don’t remember. I didn’t want to use the cart for recycling, I simply wanted it to store items like baseball bats, small shovels and rakes, basketballs, footballs, etc. It gets the job done and it’s the perfect size sitting in my garage, next to my gigantic rolling green garbage can.

I mentioned in a previous post a few years ago, that I am not a recycling kind of guy. If I thought it really worked, I might give it a second thought, but I think it falls under the heading of socially acceptable non-productive behavior.

The flyers announcing the recycling specifics were bold and colorful with all sorts of cool pictures of stuff that qualified as being recyclable including:

  • Aluminum and steel cans, and lids
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Plastic bottles and jugs
  • Dry food boxes
  • Cartons and juice boxes
  • Newspapers, magazines, catalogs, phone books, computer paper and my favorite, junk mail
  • Flattened cardboard including pizza boxes

My favorite day of the week is Thursday; that’s garbage day at the Watchdog household. I pride myself in shoving as much stuff as I can find into my garbage can, rolling it down to the curb late at night, and hearing the garbage truck roll by late morning to make the contents magically disappear, and then the process starts over again.

Most of my neighbors have recycling carts. They have to store them outside because there’s no room in their garages. I’ve noticed that some of my neighbors can’t fit huge boxes into their recycling carts, so they leave them neatly at curbside, and the recycling guy empties their cans but leaves the boxes. One neighbor had a box spring and mattress delivered in boxes. He tried bending the boxes and shoving them in his recycling can with no success. He then tried cutting the boxes into small pieces with a razor blade box opener and shoving them into the can, with a little more success, but still had to leave 75% of the cardboard at the curb. The recycling guy doesn’t want to leave the friendly confines of his truck to take the cardboard neatly piled up at the curb.

When the garbage guy rolls through, he jumps out of his truck, and tosses the cardboard boxes into the garbage truck bin, and leaves. I’m hoping the garbage truck guy earns more than the recycling guy because he works more and takes what the recycling guy won’t take.

If recycling pays off for the city, then leaving boxes at curbside is costing the city money. Hence the program is not working as good as it could. Yes, I am not doing my part, I get it, but neither is the recycling guy and he’s getting paid to do his job which includes taking cardboard boxes. How difficult is that to do.

The good news is that my recycling cart looks as good as new, and I know exactly where my baseball bats and basketballs are located.

Show 12 Comments


  1. Gerard H Schilling

    Why not talk about the recycling center that Naperville built behind their mega (all-in-one) maintenance facility on Fort Hill Drive? How many millions and how many people were hired to supervise and man this facility which is almost closed now?

    Just another waste of our money and home for political hacks. Rewards for supporting the right players and never based on true needs.

  2. Mike Thommes

    Mr. Watchdog, your non-participation in our local recycling efforts is shocking and disappointing! You lost a bunch of points in my book. 🙁 If you are unhappy with your local driver, contact his company or even maybe Naperville’s Public Works Department to complain. You seem to be good at complaining about other issues. And then start doing the right thing – using your blue roll cart for its intended purpose.

    (I’m happy to report that all three of my pickup guys (garbage, recycling, and yard waste) do outstanding jobs!)

  3. Jim Haselhorst

    When the carts were implemented the notice that said what could go in them also stated that after a certain day the blue recycling bins and anything not place inside the cart would not be taken. Part of the efficiency of this program is that the drivers not leave their vehicles to empty blue bins and collect recyclables pilled at the curb. As to fitting it everything in the recycling cart, I have had numerous large boxes to dispose of since the carts were implemented and have had no problem fitting them in the cart. All you have to remember is that there is no requirement that the lid of this kart has to be closed. Items can be sticking up out of these carts. I have had them sticking out the top as much as 2 feet (well over 6 feet from bottom of cart to top of item) without any collection problems.

    The trash collection policy is different. Anything placed at the curb, whether in a cart, trash can, trash bag, bundle, etc that is lawful to place in a land fill and does not weigh more than thirty pounds will be collected.

    One driver is not more motivated then the other, or one more lazy, they are both doing their jobs the way they were instructed to and this information has been shared with residents in the past and will be repeated if you call the company handling waste and recyclables in the city.

    So if you place your cardboard boxes at the curb, but definition of these policies you are classifying it trash not recyclable and that is the way it will be handled and collected.

  4. Julie Berkowicz

    I’m proud to say that our recycling is stuffed each week! And then I borrow my good friend and neighbor’s cart, even though he tells me it’s a scam and it all goes in the trash, lol. One week, we had alot of cardboard that we had broken down and neatly placed at the curb. Well, not only did the driver not pickup the cardboard, but he decided that he wasn’t going to empty our bin either. So I called the City to ask why our recycling was not picked up. After speaking to the driver she said that they would promptly return and empty our cart, however they would not take the cardboard unless it fit into the cart. She explained that the terms of their contract doesn’t include the driver leaving the truck and if the driver is expected to pick up items from the curb then the contract with the city will cost more. Perhaps the city needs a new negotiator?

  5. Grant W.

    Don’t get me started on recycling. You wouldn’t like me when I talk about recycling.

    Imagine the amount of rules the city could impose for worker convenience -referring to the comment that the material must be in the bin to be collected.

    Why doesn’t the city require all utility bills to be paid in person at city hall with paper currency only. Simplifies the process and less papercuts from opening all the envelopes. Also if the city refuses to make or carry change, the rounding up of all bills could get put into the SECA fund.

    There truly is no need to shame the watchdog as studies show recycling is more about how it makes the consumer feel than it is about saving the environment.

    • Jim Haselhorst

      These requirements, as you well know, are part of the contract negotiation the city undertakes when arranging these contracts. The less time collectors spend outside of their vehicles the less time required to collect these wastes. That means less cost for the city, which also means a lower cost for residents paying for these services. The city of Naperville, as you know, pays less for trash collects then its neighbors. So these collection rules are not about worker convenience but cost cutting As I recall cost cutting is a pet peeve of yours.

      As to shaming the Watchdog for not participating, I agree it is inappropriate. We all have a right to our own views or beliefs on recycling programs and whether they are worth supporting. Shaming or belittling anyone for their beliefs is just another form of bullying, something I will not condone. As such I am obligated to call you out on your snowflake hashtag. This type of shaming is just as inappropriate and disappointing to see in someone promulgating a position critical of shaming.

      • Grant W.

        Again if cutting costs is the bottom line, why not have every 3 week pickup or only odds one week and evens the other. Many ways to save money…they just have to be more inventive with the negotiations.

        #The art of the deal

        • Jim Haselhorst

          Just because they did not consider every possible options does not change the fact it was still about saving money and not about city staff of contractor convenience.

          As to not picking up trash every week, I can understand why no one would take such and options seriously. First residents, the customer, are use to getting their trash collected every week just like everyone else in the Chicago area and every city I have lived in, which means forcing customers (resident) to change behavior. Anytime you force someone to change their behavior you are going to upset them and they are going to start looking for things to bitch about or possible sue. For example storing more trash means a bigger cart, many customers were already forced to pay a premium for a smaller recycling cart which this change could make to small to store more than a week’s worth of waste. Also many residents already complained about having to find a place to keep the new recycling cart large enough for 1 week of waste, imaging what they would say about a cart large enough to store 2 or more weeks of waste.

          The art of the deal is based on the principle that all stockholders are part of the negotiation and in this case the customer (resident) is not, only the waste-hauler and city staff are part of the negotiations. And if elected officials do not protect the residents best interests (only their own) then it is not the art of the deal but the art of the screw.

  6. Mike Thommes

    I’ll admit to not knowing all the details (ie, costs) regarding Naperville’s recycling program but I would like to think that recycling something is cheaper than adding to a landfill that ultimately can have some extravagant costs associated with it (eg, underground fires, tainted groundwater). So it would seem that according to some, maybe I shouldn’t even bother to sit in line at the hazardous waste dropoff locations. Just throw EVERYTHING in the garbage. Sure, that’s easy. Let somebody down the road (ie, my kids) worry about it. Sorry, that’s not my credo for being a good citizen.

    • Jim Haselhorst

      The Hazardous waste you are dropping off is illegal to put in your trash (paint, solvents, electronics, etc). So unless you like paying hefty fines if caught I would continue waiting in line to properly dispose of these products.

      You rise a valid question as to what costs should be added into any calculation of recycling, only tangible cost (handling, processing, transport, etc) or include intangibles (social costs, opportunity costs, goodwill, etc).

      I like you I do not know the detailed cost breakdown of our city’s recycling program. I do have an uncle that manages the city services for a small city in central Kansas. They have segregated collection trucks so they do not need to run a second crew to pick up recyclable waste. They also have residents separated waste into paper/cardboard, plastic, glass and non-recyclable waste, so they have no additional costs for sorting. They make a little money on these recyclable materials (mostly the paper and cardboard) but not much, so I would image any waste hauler that has to do any type of sorting is only breaking even at best.

      Like you I do not believe it is a good idea to just put everything in a landfill. I know some of these old landfills have been excavated only to fine little if any of the materials have decomposed (completely intact newpapers, preserved waste food,etc), which makes me question how much of this trash is really breaking down leaving a problem for future generation to fix. I share you view that good citizenship includes caring about our environment and what future generation will inherit from us.

  7. John

    I agree with Grant W. that the fee paying citizens have no voice in many areas . The council fells that they are infallible .

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