One for all

Ken Bell, a custodian at the Chicago Network Distribution Center, feeds cardboard into a baler that prepares the material for transport to a recycling center.

Employees in Great Lakes Area have discovered there’s strength in numbers when it comes to recycling.

For years, two of the area’s largest districts — Central Illinois and Chicago — each collected paper and plastic, but there often wasn’t enough material to make individual trips to the recycling centers cost effective.

The districts joined forces in 2014 and began sending their materials to the Chicago Network Distribution Center (NDC). The approach has slashed costs, earning the facility one of this year’s 10 Postmaster General Sustainability Excellence Awards.

Through the project, more than 1,000 facilities in the two districts use existing transportation routes to send recyclables — including cardboard, plastic bottles and shrink-wrap — to the NDC, where employees prepare them for pickup by a recycling operator.

The project has reduced annual trash removal costs by more than $139,000, while producing a net gain of more than $178,000.

NDC Maintenance Manager LaShawn Jackson said her team is grateful for the award, but she also points to the project’s larger benefit.

“We want the world to be around without all that junk in a landfill,” she said.