Chicago recycling: One step forward, one step back

Even before moving here, I learned that Chicago has a very poor reputation when it comes to recycling. The program for recycling household items is to put your recyclables in a designated blue bag, and then throw it away with the rest of the trash. The blue bags are supposed to be separated from the rest of the waste and sent to recycling centers. Not surprisingly, many of the blue bags never make it out of the trash and get sent to the landfill. However, some districts (including ours) recently replaced the blue bag program with the blue cart program. We now have a separate blue trash container along side our regular trash cans in the alley. Items in the blue carts will be collected by trucks separately from the trash. Score one for common sense.

The city is also trying to make progress in collecting recyclables in public spaces, e.g. the lakefront parks. They have put out blue carts similar to the ones for residential collection. Lots of them. In fact, there are more recycling containers than regular trash containers. In a perfect world, this might be the correct course of action. But at this point, it’s a mistake. Chicagoans are so recycling ignorant that they will use the closest trash-can looking thing for recyclables and non-recyclables alike. I’m sure that when these things get filled up, the sanitation department will see the amount of non-recyclables inside and send all of the contents to the landfill. Instead of placing the blue carts so haphazardly, they should be placed right next to a regular trash can. Then, when someone goes to throw something away, they’ll see the two options and hopefully dispose of the item in the correct container. I’m glad the city is making an effort to push recycling, but right now it’s mostly show over substance.

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