Clever Conservation

By Kari Felkamp

In 2014, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 258-million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in the United States. So it may seem overwhelming to think that your agency’s recycling efforts could make any difference. But with approximately 300 park districts and agencies across the state of Illinois, park and recreation professionals are finding creative ways to make an impact.

From Tennis Balls To Tennis Shoes
Last year, the Elmhurst Park District joined a nationwide effort by Rebounces to begin recycling tennis balls. Elmhurst has an active tennis community, and the courts receive a lot of play. In only a year and a half, nearly 1,800 tennis balls have been collected in Elmhurst alone. On a national level, Rebounces received more than nine-million recycled tennis balls since the organization began in 2008! It has partnered with several companies to turn the recycled balls into tennis court surfacing.

Elmhurst also found a way to “step” up its game by partnering with Soles for Kids, a non-profit organization that supplies new and gently used shoes to kids in need. Over the years, the organization has donated more than 30,000 pairs of shoes to kids in the United States and throughout the world. The park district’s fitness center, Courts Plus, has a donation drive every summer, and on average donates 800 to 1,000 pairs of shoes to the cause. At the beginning of September, Soles for Kids arranged for 700 pairs to go to Houston after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the city. In addition to helping kids in need, the partnership also keeps shoes out of landfills. To learn more about the organization, visit

Charging Forward
Geneva Park District decided to reduce its carbon footprint by purchasing the Chevy Volt, an electric car, in the spring of 2017 to replace an older fleet vehicle. According to Traci Wicks, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the park district, the vehicle is used by staff to travel between facilities and program sites throughout the district as well as to out-of-town meetings and workshops. The Volt is a hybrid vehicle, which allows the district to have the best of both worlds. The car has great fuel efficiency, it gets about 100 miles of pure electric power on one charge, and is approximately one-quarter the cost of gasoline on a cost-per-mile basis. And because electric cars don’t have exhaust systems and don’t need oil changes, maintenance costs are reduced. Two charging stations were also installed at Peck Farm Park, a popular nature retreat in the Tri-City area. Next spring, the charging stations will be available to the public.

A Memorable Cause
Park Ridge Park District worked with a local family last year to turn a tragedy into a special way to honor their daughter, who passed away unexpectedly. The entire community banded together and tied purple ribbons and tablecloths around trees to honor Kate’s memory, but the Girl Scout troop came up with an even bigger idea. If it recycled all those plastic ribbons and tablecloths, they could be turned into a park bench. The district teamed up with Trex, which has sponsored local, plastic-recycling programs in communities throughout the country since 2006, and began collecting plastic bags and tablecloths. Three of the district’s facilities served as drop-off sites, and the first bench will be installed this fall. Kate’s parents have decided to continue the program, and once again the district will be a drop-off site.


Giving “Baaaa-ck”
Downers Grove Park District is doing its part to give “baaaa-ck” by using grazing goats to clear invasive species. Dawn Hartman, Manager of Marketing and Creative Development, said the district contracted with Vegetation Solutions four years ago for its natural grazing services. For two weeks each August, the goats clear sites that have a heavy growth of invasive species, such as common buckthorn, honeysuckle, roses, spotted knapweed, Queen Anne’s lace, and even poison ivy. This year, a herd of 68 goats and sheep were able to clear about six feet of growth height over seven acres at two park sites. Similar to prescribed burning, prescribed grazing is just one of many tools the district uses for natural area management.

A Glowing Opportunity
The Round Lake Area Park District Board of Commissioners in 2013 decided to turn a recycling program into a scholarship opportunity by creating the “Fun”ds for Recreation Scholarship Program. The district teamed up with Clearview Recycling, a local, commercial-recycling company, to collect used Christmas lights each year. Bins are put out in district facilities at the end of October and all lights are accepted, whether they’re working, non-working, tangled, or untangled! According to Katie Garrett, Marketing Coordinator, it’s a simple program with a high ROI. Since the program began, the district has turned in more than 1,000 pounds of recycled lights. The funds then go into the scholarship program, and Christmas lights stay out of a landfill. It’s a classic win-win!


A Competition That Doesn’t Suck
The Kane County Forest Preserve got clever with its “Don’t Suck, Save Energy!” initiative to encourage staff members to conserve energy. If any staff persons forget to turn off their lights or computer monitor while they’re out, they’ll return to a rubber vampire bat hanging in their office! Then it’s their duty to track down another offender and place the bat in that office. According to Brittany Kovach, Community Affairs Specialist, the idea has made staff be more aware of wasteful energy practices. The staff has been supportive of the initiative and has turned it into a competition. People don’t want the bat in their office, so it’s been fun for them to try to track down offenders. It’s made for lots of laughs, according to Kovach.

As Dr. Seuss wrote, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” And while our efforts may seem small on their own, thousands of park and recreation professionals across the state of Illinois continue to do their part every day to make this world a better place in which to live and play!

Kari Felkamp is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Elmhurst Park District in Elmhurst, IL. She can be reached at or (630) 993-8923.


Top 5 Facts to Know (from

1.       Without exception, recycling is the top action that society can take to simultaneously improve the environment, the economy, sustainable manufacturing, and the prevention of waste from going into oceans.
2.       When U.S. recycling levels reach 75 percent, it will be the environmental and CO2 equivalent of removing 55-million cars from U.S. roads each year.
3.       When U.S. recycling levels reach 75-percent, 1.5-million new jobs (net) will be generated in the U.S.
4.       Manufacturers truly want these materials back to reuse in their manufacturing, but they aren't able to reuse the materials if people don’t recycle the right way.
5.       The nonprofit, standardized-label mission is the number-one solution to help society begin to recycle and therefore, help recycling thrive.


Benefits For The Economy

  • Recycling is a $200-billion industry in the U.S.
  • Recycling generates 7 to 10 more jobs that landfills and waste to energy plants.  
  • Recycling properly creates valuable resources for U.S. manufacturing and can become a highly valuable export to countries such as China and India. 

Benefits For The Environment

  • Recycling conserves finite natural resources, which is critical as the opulation grows exponentially.
  • Recycling prevents waste from going into oceans.
  • Recycling protects forests, which help to reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Recycling significantly reduces use of fossil-fuel energy and reduces CO2 emissions.