HAMMOND | Increasing recycling in Hammond is on the radar of city administrators, according to comments Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. made at a recent city event.
McDermott called Hammond's recycling rate “embarrassing” considering the city has a full-time Recycling Department.
With its recycling processing center, Hammond has the ability to bundle recyclables collected in the city and then sell them on the open market.
“If we're not putting out as much as we should be putting out, (the recycling director) is not getting as much money as he needs to get to run that department. That garbage is going some place. Where it's going is the landfill, which is expensive as well,” McDermott said. “We get the double penalty. If we're not putting out recyclables, not only are we not making the revenue, we're paying more to landfill it.”
Some 36 percent of Hammond households participated in curbside recycling during the latest count of a two-week collection cycle, said Steve Fowler, the city's acting recycling director. Fowler said numbers vary widely across the city with participation rates in some areas as low as 15 percent and others at 50 percent.
“We want to make it a cleaner process for residents, so that will hopefully encourage them to recycle more,” Fowler said.
Fowler said discussions on how to boost participation are focusing on consolidating four of the city's departments into a new public works department. The consolidation, which is anticipated to be complete by Jan. 1, will move the Recycling Department from the Hammond Sanitary District to the city.
The Lake County Solid Waste Management District has discussed with Hammond officials the potential of placing larger recycling containers in the city to increase the rate, said Jeff Langbehn, waste district executive director.
“I've been in several conversations with (McDermott) and his staff on ways they can increase it, and they are trying to formulate a pretty comprehensive increase in the program,” Langbehn said. “I'm excited a community of that size wanted to move forward.”
In nearby Whiting, the city has achieved 100 percent participation in its recycling program, according to a survey of bins three times last year.
“It doesn't mean everyone is recycling up to snuff, but every bin needs to be emptied,” Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura said.
Since Whiting installed 65-gallon recycling carts on every property in the city, the cost of disposing municipal solid waste has decreased by approximately 25 percent, Stahura said.
In 2012, Hammond had a 15.7 percent recycling rate, which is the percentage of tons diverted from the landfill. That's compared to Crown Point at 39.6 percent and Lakes of the Four Seasons and Whiting at 58.5 percent, according to Lake County Solid Waste Management District data. Gary, the second most populated city in Lake County, had a rate of 22.5 percent with East Chicago at 25 percent.
Mark McLaughlin, McDermott's chief of staff, said an educational campaign will coincide with efforts to increase recycling in Hammond.
“I think we'll have something by the end of the year,” McLaughlin said.