Friday, May 30, 2008

Recycling and the City

The Chicago blue bag recycling program has put friends of the environment through quite an emotional ride since 1995 when the program went city-wide; we toiled away filling blue bags up while sad truths regarding just where our recyclables did or did not go were revealed to us slowly over the years (the answer: mostly into landfills); as the powers that be insist that everything is working just fine. Alas, finally an end to the madness: announced this May in 2008 was the end of the Chicago blue bag program; the City has said that "by the end of 2011" the blue bag system will be replaced completely by the new 'Blue Cart' program.

It would not be surprising if you had never seen a Blue Cart before, as only small portion of the city has them currently. They look just like the familiar black trash cans that are lined up and down every Chicago alley, but instead they are blue. The Blue Carts by all reports are a resounding success, reducing the amount of waste by over 16% in the wards where they are available (so far in 2008, and the numbers keep going up), that's more than twice the effectiveness of the blue bag program's 8% (from the Chicago Tribune's 2005 estimate) .

Sadly many communities will have to wait for years for the Blue Carts to appear, there is a map detailing when a few select neighborhoods will be receiving the blue carts, but a more speedy and complete roll-out of the carts is non-existent because of mayor Daley blaming budget shortfalls. It seems a bit short-sighted to not fund a project that can actually make money for the city as the prices of all recycled commodities go up and up.. a call to the department of Streets and Sanitation or the Mayor's Office asking them to put their money where their mouth is may help to spur things along.

The Blue Carts will only serve smaller residential properties (homes and apartments with 4 or fewer units) known as low-density properties. Low-density residential properties create one-quarter of the waste the city disposes of, while the other three quarters of the city’s trash is generated by large residential buildings, offices, stores, restaurants, and other nonindustrial businesses, none of which are served by city garbage crews.

High-rise dwellers or inhabitants in buildings with more than five units should know that city laws require that you must have a recycling program available to you. Please ask your trash carrier or condo board / association about compliance with the "Chicago High Density Residential and Commercial Source Reduction Ordinance" more commonly known as the Burke-Hansen ordinance. Keep in mind that while these programs might cost more money, with proof of a recycling program multi-unit buildings can receive a 75$ rebate per housing unit to recoup the property tax money the city collects for trash removal. Don't fall for the blue-bag trap again if your building's trash carrier says that is how it separates recyclables, insist that your carrier show reports of how much of the trash they collect is recycled, and contact your alderman to ask for assistance. The Chicago Reader has a great article on a high rise success story that actually decreased waste removal costs.

For those without blue carts or multi-unit recycling initiatives, there is another option: the recycling drop-off centers scattered through the city. These are far from optimal since they force users to store their recyclables, then drive them to the big blue dumpster.. consuming precious space, gas, and time. But if you have a bit of extra room at home, you can fill your car for a trip to a drop off center.

So until our local government steps in and solves all of our recycling problems, you as an individual can indeed make a difference, immediately! In addition to City programs, other
local resources are available, like the Chicago Recycling Coalition's website which offers easy access to a wealth of recycling information; or the Chicago Resource Center, where business can call for a pickup of items usually destined to the trash, which are then reused or stored and offered for use to teachers and other community programs at liquidation prices.

Stay tuned for future postings on how to cut trash collectors completely out of the equation for yard waste and other organic matter, by composting!

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