Less a call to action, but rather a chance to lay the groundwork, a local advocacy group hosted an informational meeting on trash disposal in what could be a budding effort to bolster environmental awareness in Forest Park.

Roughly 20 residents gathered at a local church last Thursday to hear from regional officials on what it costs to throw something away as opposed to recycling it. Representatives from the garbage hauling industry as well a Cook County recycling agency joined municipal leaders in spelling out how waste is collected, where it goes and what it costs to provide those services.

Incidentally, the event coincided with the first round of bills issued to residents under a new fee structure for waste collection that will gradually increase the cost to users.

The discussion was hosted by Citizens United in Forest Park.

“Recycling is unlimited and every garbage can has a price on its head,” Karen Rozmus, manager of the Oak Park Public Works Department’s waste reduction program, said.

Rozmus, a long-time Forest Parker is also the new vice president for CUinFP. She was joined on the panel by Forest Park Village Administrator Mike Sturino, Environmental Coordinator of the West Cook County Solid Waste Agency Jim Caporusso and Rich Van der Molen of Allied Waste.

Since the village began distributing recycling bins free of charge to its residents, Van der Molen said the gains in recycling are measurable. In 2003, roughly 850 tons of waste was diverted from landfills, Van der Molen said, and as of last month the village is recycling 1,000 tons of waste annually.

He estimated that 20 percent of the waste stream in Forest Park is being recycled.

Sturino called the village’s program the “Cadillac” of waste removal, but said it has unnecessarily been a drain on municipal budgets. Earlier this year, village council members approved fee increases to help offset the roughly $500,000 per year the village has spent subsidizing the program.

During his presentation at the CUinFP event, Sturino focused on the program’s costs in comparison to neighboring communities.

“We’re still well below our neighbors,” Sturino said of the $10 monthly fee that went into effect this summer. By 2009 residents can expect to pay $14.25 per month for trash removal, according to the new fee schedule.

CUinFP President Steve Backman said the meeting was the first step in the organization’s effort to strengthen green initiatives in the community. The cause is also new to Backman’s organization, which has largely focused on political issues since its inception.

“I think this is a start,” Backman said. “I don’t know that there are any long-term goals at this point.”