New report on recycling in Chicago shows ways to increase the city’s low participation rate


Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a long-awaited report on Chicago’s waste stream on Wednesday, tailored to reduce the volume of trash and improve the city’s dismal recycling rates.

The report contains 63 “strategic recommendations” aimed at easing the burden on Chicago taxpayers by lowering landfill costs, minimizing waste contamination, increasing diversion and addressing environmental inequalities that have turned the southeast side into a dump.

But the report’s author, the Delta Institute, did not provide a specific blueprint for City Hall. It only contained proposals, including some being tested in other cities and states, that Chicago might consider adopting.

“This will set a new direction,” said Angela Tovar, the city’s chief sustainability officer. “Some of these are optimal strategies and others are really practical.”

Ambitious recommendations, the report says, include deposit costs to the cost of bottles and cans, which 10 other states have done to keep these items out of landfills.

“Michigan’s 1976 Bottle Deposit Act introduced a 10 cents deposit on beverage packaging. The deposit will be refunded when the empty container is returned to a participating dealer for recycling. In 2019, over $ 338 million in refunds were processed, representing a refund rate of 88.7 percent, ”the report said.

Other suggestions are:

• Providing the collection of food waste and other organic waste to all residents under the care of the Ministry of Roads and Sanitation who register.

“With significant investments in education and infrastructure, roadside collection for anyone interested in Chicago could significantly reduce the amount of materials sent to landfill and help curb contamination in recycling streams,” the report said.

• Rather than proceeding with “one-stop recycling” – where different types of recyclable materials are all put in the same blue cart to be picked up by the garbage teams – Chicago might consider reducing the materials accepted for recycling and reducing residents Sorting some items Separate containers first or pick up recyclable materials more often.

“While single-stream recycling … is convenient for residents and shippers, and can increase the tonnage of material collected for recycling, processing costs and contamination rates are often higher than multi-stream recycling,” the report said.

Twenty-nine communities across the country have begun restricting the types of items accepted in an effort to improve the quality of recycled material for reprocessing, the Delta Institute said.

“Flagstaff, Arizona only collects metal cans and pans, paper, cardboard and plastic bottles, jugs and glasses. All other plastics and glasses are not accepted when they are picked up at the roadside, ”the reports say.

“In Emmet County, Michigan, residents are offered dual-stream recycling options with two separate bins – one for paper, cardboard and plastic bags and one for plastic, metal and glass containers.”

• Reducing the estimated 11.6 million pounds of plastic that floods Lake Michigan each year by enacting a stalled ordinance banning Chicago restaurants and takeaways from using foam containers and requiring plastic straws and grocery items to be provided only on request.

• Rebuilding the city’s Department of the Environment – a promise Lightfoot fought only to break.

• Providing a central website or app for Chicago residents to unsubscribe from unsolicited email.

• Establish “repair cafes” to keep bulk goods such as appliances, e-waste and textiles out of roadside recycling and waste streams, and to create “skill building opportunities” for cafeteria workers.

• Create more recycling and reuse of construction and demolition rubble.

• Establish drop-off points where Chicago residents can drop off garden litter and leftover food.

• Strengthening the yard waste collection program with “resources and personnel to enable regular seasonal collections, rather than having local residents request a collection via 311”.

• From Chicago’s largest food waste producers such as grocery stores to divert their waste through donation and composting.

• Updated the zoning of waste facility locations to reduce environmental impact, especially in traditional landfills.

• Regular review and optimization of the waste collection routes, which were converted from a station system to a grid system in 2013.

In a press release, Lightfoot welcomed the long-awaited report as “an exciting opportunity to take new and innovative approaches” to Chicago’s waste problem.

“We look forward to implementing many of the recommendations quickly … and developing a modern materials management system that minimizes landfilling, promotes the ambitious sustainability goals of our city and focuses on the needs of our residents,” the mayor is quoted as saying.

One of the short-term practical strategies the city has already begun is to crack down on apartments and condos that don’t adhere to city recycling rules, said Chris Sauve, deputy roads and sanitation commissioner. This step came at the urging of the city’s top guard dog.

Overall there is no other place than upstairs. After decades of beginnings, the recycling rate in Chicago is still 8 or 9 percent of all things thrown away.

Brett Chase’s environmental and public health coverage is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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