The Road to Recycling - – Rockford’s News Leader

The Road to Recycling


People in Rockford recycle nearly 60 tons of materials each year. On garbage day, disposal trucks pick up our refuse,  but the road to recycling does not end there.
13 News followed the trail to see just where our recycling goes after we put it out on the curb.

Rock River Environmental Services handles the weekly collection in Winnegago County. When collection trucks are full, there are very few options as for where the recycling can go.

"We don't have any local processing facilities for these recyclables, " says John Lichte, President and CEO of Rock River Environmental Services

Instead, our empty cans and bottles must make a two hour journey, nearly 100 miles from Rockford, for processing.  

Lichte says, "The recycling materials that are picked up curbside here in Rockford are taken to a transfer facility at the landfill property. The collection vehicles off-load them, then they get loaded on to semi tractor trailers, which are much more efficient to haul long distance, and it's hauled to Homewood, Illinois."

Lichte adds,  The partnership the county has with Diversified Recycling in Homewood is good for our region. "We appreciate the benefits of a $19 million state of the art facility without having that capital expense."

Jon Schroeder manages that plant in Homewood. The newly renovated center takes in all of Rockford's recyclables, as well as stuff from hundreds of other communities.

"Our old system was designed to do 17 tons an hour, this system is designed to do 50 tons an hour," he says.  

All day long, dozens of trucks full of recyclables drive to Homewood to dump their contents.

Schroeder explains the process, "The tractor disconnects from the trailer, and the tipper raises it up in the air, and gravity takes over."

The recycling is all mixed together at this point. From the trailer, it falls into a large room where a waiting employee transfers the trash onto the first of many conveyer belts.

"The first step is to pull out any un-recyclable material, or any large items that can't go through the system," says Schroeder. "And then it goes through a screen that pulls out the cardboard, then more screens separate the fiber, the newspaper, from the containers, and then it goes further through the system. you're sorting out the containers by what they are, mostly by the use of optical sorting. "

Then the sorted materials are compressed into huge bales.

"An aluminum bale weighs about 1,000 pounds, and it takes roughly 37 cans to make 1 pound, so you have about 37,000 cans in a bale,"  says Schroeder.

 The bales are sold to other companies who will break the materials down and reuse them.

"Fiber, a lot of it is going overseas, most of the containers stay here domestically. One big thing is the pop bottles, some of the places we go to with that would be like Mohawk, where they actually make carpeting out of it. The rest of the containers go to the various markets, most of them here in the Midwest," Schroeder explains.  

And those trucks that drove from Rockford to Homewood full of recycling, their trip is not one way.

"They send us a load of trash for every load of recycling we send in there, and they pay to dump that," Lichte says.

The payment is called a 'host fee.'  Homewood and it's surrounding areas do not have a dump to put their waste, so they have to pay to send it away to communities that do, like Winnebago County.

"This arrangement that we've made to dispose of our recycling alone is generating about 200,000 dollars a year in host fees locally from the waste that they generate to us as a result of us sending out recyclables there," says Lichte.

Those funds go directly to Winnebago County. County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen explains the process, "We can use it for basically anything and we chose economic development."

The Burpee museum, the BMO Harris Bank Center, and Klehm Arboretum and among more than a dozen local organizations that also benefit from host fees.

"It's been extremely beneficial, it's things we would never have been able to do without those funds," says Christiansen.  

The number of these trips to and from Homewood are increasing. Thirty-one percent of the total volume once thrown out in Rockford is now being recycled.  Only about 10 percent of materials sent to the Homewood processing center do not get recycled.

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