Is the city finally getting a clue when it comes to its recycling programs? We compare the pilot "blue cart" program with the blue bags.
Blue bags were introduced in Chicago in 1995, and have been booed pretty much ever since. But last year, the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation decided to use an $8 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to fund a new blue-cart recycling program. It was launched in February in the 19th Ward, moved into the 5th and 8th Wards in April, and the first pickup in the 1st and 37th Wards will take place June 4 (meetings are being held to educate residents; visit flores1stward.com or call 311). In August, residents of the 46th and 47th Wards will be able to take advantage of the program, which will bring the service to seven of Chicago’s 50 wards (visit civicfootprint.org to find out what ward you live in).
But “don’t trash one form of recycling for another,” advises Matt Smith of Streets and Sans. “Keep on recycling in whatever form you can…this is also a pilot for [the city] to make the delivery system more efficient.”
If your ward is not being serviced by blue carts, visit chicagorecycles.org for a list of recycling drop-off centers and more info. Meanwhile, here’s a rough breakdown of bags versus carts:
Blue bag You pay about 10 to 15 cents a bag (about the price of regular garbage bags) at your local grocery store, which doesn’t always carry them.
Blue cart Carts are provided at no charge; the number each building gets depends on units.
Blue bag Put paper in one bag, yard waste in another and remaining recyclables in a third. Bags go in with your regular garbage.
Blue cart All recyclables are placed separately in one cart, except for yard waste, which is placed in any bag and left next to the cart (it is taken to Land and Lakes, a composting facility).
Blue bag A truck with three city union employees picks up bags, along with your trash, every week.
Blue cart A truck with two city union employees comes to empty carts, not your trash cans, every other week.
Where do recyclables go?
Blue bag To a city sorting center with the rest of your trash. According to Smith, in 2006, 17.6 percent of all city waste dropped off got recycled.
Blue cart To Resource Management, a facility in Chicago Ridge that deals only in recycling. “We have no incentive to not recycle everything we get,” says vice president Greg Maxwell.
Blue bag The city pays $54 per ton to transfer garbage and blue bags.
Blue cart With the current market (which fluctuates), the city gets paid $58 per ton for recyclables—though Smith notes that this venture is more costly than blue bags, as it requires additional trucks, crews. The return helps offset the cost, which means the program’s success depends on the number—and dedication— of residents who participate.