The crew at the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District is happy to know the parks are used and appreciated. What they don’t like is having to clean up the trash. Why would someone think a park’s parking lot is the right place to dump a desk chair? Yup, a chair.
The list of items collected over one week’s time goes on: yard waste bags, fast food bags and cups, Kleenex, paper towels, water bottles, liquor bottles, diapers and wipes, CDs, COVID masks, cigarette boxes, condoms and more.
“We really want to dig in and tackle this and see if we see an improvement. We don’t really know how to do that,” Doug Boehm, superintendent of parks and planning, told the park district’s board of commissioners at the May 3 meeting.
He’s hoping for some solution because crews are spending too much time and effort cleaning up trash. Boehm said his crew follows the principle “safe, clean and green” for the parks.
It used to be that the parks were littered with water bottles and papers, but now “our parking lots are like a sewer or a garbage can. It’s awful. We’ve talked about it for over a year. We’ve had peaks and valleys and not sure we’re going to make any impact, but we decided we need to try.”
Garbage cans aren’t in the parking lot, “but they’re just six steps from the lot. Do we want to make a commitment to (placing) garbage cans in the lot? What can we do to make an impact or difference?” Boehm wondered.
He wants to find a way to engage the community on the issue. Would signs with catchy slogans work? Boehm had examples of initiatives in other areas. One painted garbage cans with slogans: “I hate that empty feeling inside” and “Can you spot me some trash?”
Maybe decorated garbage cans are the way to go, but even that poses a problem.
“Due to the supply chain, you can’t get them and when you can they’re usually 20 bucks but this year they’re $85, but that could be months down the road. We’re reusing the chemical barrels and painting them,” Boehm said.
Parks commissioners suggested Boehm start with one or two parking lots to see if any of his initiatives will have an impact. That would give him a way to measure the effect.
Irons Oaks Nature Center has a “pack it in, pack it out” policy with groups. Whatever a group brings to the nature center has to be taken away with them. It’s a stipulation that’s written into the confirmation letter, said Cheryl Vargo, Irons Oaks manager. The policy has “worked pretty well.”
“We find schools make better choices because they know they have to take the trash back with them,” she said. Reducing the amount of food for lunches reduces what would otherwise go to waste, and it’s also an environmentally sound approach, she added.