Karen Rozmus, the conscience, heart and hands of the Village of Oak Park’s recycling programs retired on June 30 after nearly 22 years on the job. As manager of the Village’s refuse and recycling programs, she touched virtually every program in Oak Park related to environmental sustainability.
Queen of green…Typically toiling behind the scenes, Rozmus, who often referred to herself as the queen of trash while others called her the queen of green, made recycling and reuse a municipal government priority long before the movement went mainstream. She was instrumental in a number of local recycling programs, including electronic equipment recycling, bulk paper shredding, the Great Paint Exchange and Compostable, one of the region’s first municipal organic waste recycling programs. Rozmus also helped make Earth Day celebrations a local tradition and was instrumental in creating Earth Fest, Oak Park’s annual celebration of green living.
Innovative thinker…Rozmus was there in the early days when recycling was first added to Oak Park’s residential refuse collection program. She later championed an effort to replace Oak Park’s small, curbside plastic bins with large recycling carts that fundamentally changed how residential recycling was viewed in the community. Her efforts also brought single-stream recycling to Oak Park, a step that eliminated the cumbersome sorting of glass, paper and metal that many still see as an impediment to wider adoption of household recycling. Most recently, she helped negotiate a new residential waste hauling contract that added at-your-door collection of most common hazardous household waste and unwanted electronics (see story on page 4).
True community resource…Introducing recycling in the local schools was among her early priorities, and included composting with worms and recycling centers at elementary schools. She also was a reliable source of information and resources for local businesses and community not-for-profit organizations that wanted to get involved in recycling.
Delivering real results…Thanks in a large part to Rozmus’ efforts, more than a third of Oak Park’s total annual refuse collections are recycling, which is among the highest rates in the region. Add in household and yard waste composting — other programs she helped create and manage — and the Village diverts more than a third of its refuse collections away from landfills.
Recognized beyond Oak Park…Rozmus has long been recognized locally, regionally and even nationally as the guiding force behind the community’s recognition as a pioneer of the municipal environmental sustainability movement in the Midwest. Active in a number of state and regional organizations, she was inducted into the Recycling Hall of Fame by Keep Chicago Beautiful, the regional affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.
Gone, but nearby…Officials say matching Rozmus’ dedication, energy and knowledge will be difficult, if not impossible. Luckily, she lives in nearby Forest Park and will remain available for advice and guidance in the future. For more information on Oak Park’s refuse and recycling programs, visit www.oak-park.us/refuse.