The buzzwords of the once marginalized environmental movement have worked their way into daily conversations and communities across the country are rushing to the podium to tout their latest eco-friendly effort. Chicago would like to call itself the greenest city in the land, but New Yorkers and San Franciscans are also beginning to wage large-scale battles against waste.
Here in Forest Park meanwhile, the environment is noticeably absent from discussions both within the neighborhoods and in village hall. There is no grass-roots push from voters demanding that community leaders install greener policies. And if any of the candidates running in the spring elections championed Mother Earth, the sentiment was all but ignored.
Karen Rozmus, a 55-year resident of Forest Park and waste reduction manager in Oak Park, said the catalyst to increased environmental awareness and subsequent sustainability is rooted in promotion. The problem now, she said, is no one seems to be willing to pick up the flag and lead the charge.
“In Forest Park, like almost any community, there is a part of the population that always recycles and even more who want to recycle if they are aware of good programs,” Rozmus said. “The key is providing more information and public education about environmental issues to the community.”
Rozmus has worked in Oak Park’s public works department for the last 12 years, and has been lauded for her efforts to bolster recycling programs. The environment became a career path for Rozmus back in 1990 when she was working out of her home in Forest Park.
“I had a home business and I noticed my kids were drinking a lot of soda,” Rozmus said. “I called the village of Forest Park to find about the recycling program.”
From those formative days Rozmus became environmentally active, working with former village commissioner Maureen Booth, and contributing a column to the Forest Park Review on the subject. Her more recent accomplishments include winning the manager of the year award in February from the Suburban Branch of the American Public Works Association, Chicago Metro Chapter.
“In Forest Park, we have some promotion about the environment and recycling via our quarterly village newsletter, however, Oak Park produces a letter monthly and does things with Channel Six,” Rozmus said. “There seems to be more opportunities for promotion in Oak Park, but the residents of the two communities basically aren’t really different in terms of these issues.”
By a percentage of volume, Rozmus’ hometown (Forest Park) and workplace (Oak Park) are in roughly the same league when it comes to the amount of recyclable material diverted from the waste stream. The difference, she said, is in how the two communities approach the issue. She estimates that 25 percent of waste is recycled in Forest Park compared to 33 percent in Oak Park.
According to figures provided by the village, less than 20 percent of the total waste stream in Forest Park is recycled.
Citizens United in Forest Park, an activist group dedicated to community issues, conceded that it has been mum when it comes to increasing environmental awareness. Rozmus, a CUinFP member, is starting to push a green agenda within the organization and so far has organized a symposium for Sept. 27 at St. Peter’s Church. The gathering, which will aim to promote environmental awareness and education, will be open to the public.
“We’re going to try and put out as much information as we can so people can make decisions based on facts,” CUinFP President Steve Backman said. “Right now, one of the big issues from worldwide, national and local perspectives is garbage and recycling. We don’t have a task force, but Karen has been on board with this and she’ll be our go to person. She’s really well-versed on several environmental issues.”
CUinFP, incorporated in May 2004, tackles a plethora of town issues and activities ranging from parking, zoning and voter registration. While the environment hasn’t been a top priority, the organization pitched in last year to help pickup trash along village roads.
CUinFP has invited Village Administrator Michael Sturino to the symposium.
“I can’t find anyone who wouldn’t say they aren’t concerned about the environment whether they are an elected official, staff or community resident,” Sturino said. “There’s always room for improvement. Aside from the rules set by federal and state regulations, we can all do more. Residents can encourage other residents to be more environmentally aware. I’ve been invited to the symposium, and I think it’s always good when you can provide information and education to the public about a particular issue.”
According to Sturino, the current recycling program that provides residents with a 64-gallon tote saw an 11 percent increase in the recycling rate its first year. The following year Forest Park posted an additional 5 percent increase in the amount of waste that is recycled.
“The previous bins we had were messy, especially on windy days, and they were just too small,” Sturino said. “We did a good job of promotion with the new carts.”
Based on figures from the village’s hauling company, Allied Waste, Forest Park produced 4,060 tons of household waste, 967 tons of recycling waste and 339 tons of yard waste in 2006. The village recycled 19.2 percent of its total waste stream that year. Roughly 24 percent of all recyclable material and yard waste were diverted from landfills.
The statistics show that the community has plenty of room for improvement, but also that residents of Forest Park are interested in improving sustainability initiatives.
“I’m bad when it comes to recycling,” Forest Park resident Nicola Kerr said. “If the village made it easier for me, I’d probably be better about it.