Chicago’s recycling program has had less than a storied history. It’s first iteration using blue bags, picked up by the trash man, saw very low participation numbers. Starting in 2008, the program was revamped and moved over to the current system of blue carts. The carts are picked up by recycling trucks and taken to a facility for sorting. Controversially, the city sells the recyclables to refuse companies. Those companies can then sell the recyclable items to companies that can create things out of the raw materials. For example, Pepsi can buy aluminum cans from the waste company to create new cans. And Yes – the city is in the commodities business.
It’s understandable to be skeptical about this entire process. Why not create a deposit system for bottles and cans as some other municipalities have done in other parts of the country? And are items recycled or do they head to a landfill? The benefit of blue cart program is that it aids in creating jobs. Those men and women picking up the blue carts continue to be employed because of the program’s existence. Furthermore, since the city sells the trash for a profit, in theory, revenue can be generated for other city services. Also, it’s a lot easier to take items to the alley than to a centralized deposit location. And while it’s easy to be skeptical about where the recyclables ultimately end, according to an NPR story on the recycling program, 70% to 87% of the items are indeed recycled. Considering the failure of the past and the general mistrust of government, it’s nice to know at least one environmental program is working reasonably well.