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Municipal Recycling: Social Impact and Engagement

Earth Day 2024 is a good time to consider the potential of a modern commercial recycling facility that hosts educators, students, community members, and brand owner stakeholders.

Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor

April 22, 2024

3 Min Read
Earth plus sorted and bundled recycled material
LRS, Rick Lingle/Canva

There’s a celebration every day for anything and everything under the sun from the sublime, for example National Day of Prayer (May 2), to the ridiculous, for example National Cat Herder Day (December 15).

However, one day every year we celebrate our planet and that’s today, Earth Day.

What’s it all about?

Prompted by an insightful and acute awareness of the planet’s fragility, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson catalyzed a grassroots movement that led to the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. It was reported that 20 million Americans participated in rallies across the country.

By year’s end, the US created the Environmental Protection Agency.

Nelson's spark of ecological mindfulness quickly went viral. Today, 190 countries recognize Earth Day on April 22.

But it’s more than a single day; it takes a global village year ‘round where everyone and every company plays a role daily. Collectively that striving incrementally either helps or hinders the health of our “pale blue dot”, as Carl Sagan famously put it, that we call home.

This month we’ve been paying tribute to Earth Day every Monday with insights surrounding packaging sustainability grounded in the real-world experience gained from Lakeshore Recycling Systems’ Exchange Material Recovery Facility. Known as The Exchange, the $50 million materials recovery/recycling facility (MRF) opened last year in Chicago.

According to Joy Rifkin, LRS, manager, sustainability, and training, "The Exchange has the unique opportunity to increase the City of Chicago's overall recycling rate, which is currently reported as 9.6%."

And it is proactively leveraging that opportunity on several fronts. Episode 4 of the series centers on LRS’ commitment to education, transparency, and collaboration with the communities it serves that also extends far beyond the Chicago area.

MRF guests range from students to brand owners.

“Since the LRS Exchange MRF opened in 2023, LRS has hosted more than 300 guests to tour the facility,” Rifkin says. “Visitors include university professors and students, package designers, government leaders, customers, businesses, and community groups. Tours involve an educational presentation and a collaborative discussion on waste, recycling, technology, and sustainability.”

Inside the expansive facility guests walk the facility to see the magnets, cameras, people, and machines involved in properly sorting recyclables.

I was one of those guests last summer. It was an eye-opening experience showing how efficiently a MRF’s complex interactive systems can effectively process and sort a diverse range of packaging at a rate of 25 tons an hour.  

LRS list of visitors also included more than 40 guests from a major US food brand. 

“The research and design engineers from the brand were interested in their ability to design for recyclability,” Rifkin points out.

The brand guests left with profound lessons learned. LRS shared with the brand personnel which of their products' packaging made it through The Exchange system. LRS also shared which packaging was unable to be recovered. LRS hopes this kind of educational experience will lead to changes in packaging design.

In another example, in October 2023 LRS hosted more than 80 guests from the Chicago Paper and Plastics Recycling Conference.

Today on Earth Day LRS hosts its first community open house at The Exchange. The recycler's educational outreach program is not only sustainable, it's accelerating.

“LRS continues to expand our partnerships with local community groups and organizations in the Chicagoland area,” Rifkin notes.

That bodes well for the community and for the region and, in a broader sense, for all.

To read the previous episodes in April about LRS and The Exchange, see

Episode 1 Recycling in an MRF Minute: $50 Million Plus Benefits

Episode 2 Recycling Secrets of Sorting

Episode 3: Behind-the-Scenes Look at a New Recycling Facility

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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