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Behind-the-Scenes Look at a New Recycling Facility

Insights into the justification and value of a $50 million recycling facility that opened last year in Chicago.

Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor

April 15, 2024

2 Min Read
Inside The Exchange, LRS' recycling facility that opened in 2023 in Chicago.LRS

Recycling today is a lot easier than it used to be when consumers had to sort different recyclables by types in different bins. Now all recyclables are tossed into a single bin, which in Chicago is the all-in-one blue cart.

It couldn’t be simpler, at least for consumers. However, that jumbled mix of packaging complicates things downstream. And that’s why high-speed materials recovery — or recycling — facilities (MRFs) are a fundamental part of a circular economy.

Last year Lakeshore Recycling Systems opened a new MRF it calls The Exchange Material Recovery Facility, aka The Exchange. It accepts rigid plastics made of high-density polyethylene, PET, or polypropylene along with other recyclable packaging material including corrugated boxes, aluminum bottles, tin cans, and beverage cartons, among others.

This is the third in our weekly “Recycling MRF in a Minute” series reports with LRS throughout April that acknowledges Earth Day on the 22nd.  In Episode 2 last week we detailed the sorting process at The Exchange that’s powered by people and technology.

This week’s episode features a few essentials provided by Joy Rifkin, LRS manager, sustainability, and training.…

• In June 2021, LRS took over the blue cart recycling contract for the City of Chicago. After this large contract was awarded, LRS was required to process and sort most of the recyclables collected in Chicago. The opening of the The Exchange became even more imperative.

• LRS now operates three single-stream MRFs in the Chicagoland area.

• LRS collects recyclables from more than 600 Chicago Public Schools, many Chicago area municipalities, and thousands of businesses.

• LRS collects blue cart recyclables from four of the six zones in the City of Chicago.

• In 2023, LRS released an ArcGIS interactive map in partnership with the City of Chicago  and Department of Streets and Sanitation to show the journey of blue-cart recycling.


“This cooperative effort allows Chicago residents, students, and community members to see the circular journey of recycling,” Rifkin says.

•LRS is on a mission to increase transparency about recycling. Although recycling isn’t perfect, it is happening, and it is protecting natural resources for future generations.

•LRS wants Chicago residents to trust that what they put in their blue cart is collected, sorted, and is truly recycled.

To continue transparency, LRS is hosting a first community open house at The Exchange on April 22 so that community members can get a look at the behind-the-scenes operations of recycling. If interested, you can sign-up for the event at LRSrecycles.com/Recycling101.

About the Author(s)

Rick Lingle

Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday

Rick Lingle is Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree from Clarke College and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-481-1426.

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