Where Does My Recycling Go?

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.

 

References

 

Chicago Climate Action Plan

 

“Bye bye, blue bags” – Chicago Tribune

 

“Beyond net-zero: The rise of the Living Building Challenge” – Kim Stowey

 

“Got Denmark envy? Wait until you hear about its energy policies” – David Roberts

 

“What Really Happens to Chicago’s Blue Cart Recycling” – Chris Bentley

 

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11 thoughts on “Where Does My Recycling Go?

  1. You do make a great point about Chicagoans being skeptical about the government’s ability to run an efficient recycling program. There just seems to be so many problems with the system that was put in place. Whether it is overall disregard for the new system, the low numbers of participants, or the money made from the program itself, the Chicago recycling program seemed destined to fail.

    In my opinion, the most pitiful part of Chicago’s recycling program is simply how it stand up to other programs around the country. My personal favorite program is Portland, OR. The city is working to be at a recovery rate of 90% by 2030.

    https://www.portlandoregon.gov/BPS/41461

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  2. I feel the same skepticism about recycling programs in Chicago and other places as well, considering that we don’t always know exactly where our recyclables end up or how they are reused. Although, the recycling program was “revamped” as you said, it needs to be more emphasized and practiced. In California, the Last Chance Mercantile is a location where reusable materials are salvaged one last time before being sent to a landfill. Since this location was put into place, they have doubled the salvaged material and have increased revenues by 500 percent. A program like this here would greatly impact Chicago in a positive way.

    http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/lgcentral/library/innovations/LastChance/Default.htm

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  3. I share the same distrust in government policy surrounding a variety of issues. It’s interesting to consider the idea that many plans are put into place to appease the masses that, in fact, help their causes in the most minimal ways. Now that are environment is so far gone and the United States claims to be broke, it has become increasingly difficult to implement systems that could potentially reduce the amount of damage done to our planet.

    Interestingly enough, I did not know very much about the whole blue cart system. After reading an article on the Chicago Reader, the arguments you present are fairly true. Ultimately, there are flaws in this system that need to be reconsidered if Chicago wants do its part in recycling. There honestly needs to be way to educate the public and all those involved to ensure that sustainable systems function properly.
    http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/chicago-recycling-blue-carts-service/Content?oid=2135422

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    • I agree. There needs to be more education around recycling for the consumer. A lot of that deals with mindset. People simply have to “want” to recycle. While there is definitely some skepticism in the process because the city seems to get something out of the recycling program in the form of a commodities exchange, it’s nice to know that this iteration of Chicago’s recycling program is more successful than the last. Hopefully, the next iteration is even better.

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  4. Although the recycling program in Chicago may not be the best, I try to recycle most of my recyclable items that I can instead of putting them in the garbage. Growing up, my parents taught me that recycling is good that it can save the environment. Because I’ve been taught at a young age, I try to recycle as best as I can.

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  5. Recycling is important for the urban sustainability because all the resources we have and use is not endless. If we want to keep all the resources as long as we can, we should know how to do the recycling.

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  6. You have great points. One thing that I have personally seen is the blue carts being emptied into the same truck as the black ones. Is the recycling program being conducted properly? I understand that different trucks are supposed to pick up the blue carts on different days, but it seems like that isn’t always the case. Why have the blue cats then?

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  7. You have great points. One thing that I have personally seen is the blue carts being emptied into the same truck as the black ones. Is the recycling program being conducted properly? I understand that different trucks are supposed to pick up the blue carts on different days, but it seems like that isn’t always the case. Why have the blue carts then?

    Like

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