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Ald. Moore: Expand Recycling Citywide Now

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Alderman Joe Moore

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Back in 2008, the City of Chicago began its Blue Cart recycling program, but today more than half of its residents still don’t have it.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Michele Fiore reports, Ald. Joe Moore (49th), of the Rogers Park neighborhood, is fired up about the lack of progress.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Michele Fiore reports

In the next couple of weeks, Moore plans to find 5,000 people to sign a petition which he will then present to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Unfortunately, because of the mistakes made by prior administrations, the city has been dragging its feet on implementing recycling, and the purpose of our petition drive is simply to encourage the current administration to expand it citywide,” Moore said.

Moore says on any given day, you can go to a recycling drop-off site in Rogers Park and find overflowing containers. Still, he knows the city can improve its performance, since some city dwellers don’t own a car, and the inconvenience of getting to a drop-off site may outweigh their desire to be environmentally conscious.

“The fact of the matter is, just about every major city in the country, and certainly all the suburban communities around Chicago, have had recycling for years,” Moore said.

He says other cities show the cost to expand blue cart recycling wouldn’t be a burden, “because the recyclables can be resold on the open market, and the city can recoup much of its cost.”

Mayor Emanuel has said he hopes recycling services will indeed soon expand citywide, and has himself criticized the city’s failure to implement a comprehensive recycling program.

So far, the most significant change the Emanuel administration has made to the blue car program has been to put it up to competitive bidding. In January, the Mayor’s office credited the managed competition.

The managed competition program for recycling began three months ago, when the city entered into contracts with two different private firms to handle recycling. Under the program, the city was divided into six service areas – four of which are now being served by those two firms, the other two of which are still being served directly by the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

The private firms are Waste Management and Midwest Metal Management.

Before the change, the Blue Cart recycling program was serving only a small fraction of the city’s population – 244,000 homes, at a cost of $13.8 million for the city.

Before competitive bidding began, Emanuel says “the city of Chicago was a tale of two cities when it came to recycling.

“We were known as the most green city, but we did not provide the most fundamental of green services – recycling,” Emanuel said.

Beginning April 1, 20,000 homes will be added to the blue cart service, the city said in January. By next year, Emanuel hopes the full service will be added for the entire city.

The city’s attempts to implement a recycling program date back more than 20 years.

Back in 1989, demand mounted for a recycling program as the volume of garbage discarded by consumers grew and landfill space neared capacity. Then-Ald. Bernard Hansen (44th) called for a 100 percent recycling program within three years.

Then in the fall of 1989, the Department of Streets and Sanitation began a pilot program for recycling in four city wards involving separate trucks to pick up glass, plastic and metal.

But the city decided the volume collected did not justify a citywide program of duplicate garbage service. Instead, it worked toward implementing the much-maligned Blue Bag program, which did not require separate vehicles, but instead only separate recyclable bags that would go in with regular garbage.

The Blue Bag program was implemented with much fanfare in 1995, and the city said it expected to recover more than 1 million tons of recyclable material each year with the program. But eight years later, thousands of tons of garbage were still pouring into landfills every day. And recyclables were sometimes ending up there too.

But there were also flaws in the system in which recyclables were collected, recycling advocates argued.

The same truck that picked up regular garbage also picked up the Blue Bags, compacting all of the refuse together. Those in turn were removed from their bags, placed on a conveyor belt and sorted – dirty diapers together with bottles and cans – yielding a much smaller percentage than hoped.

On its official Web site in 2002, the City of Chicago reported that over 256,000 households per week were putting out at least one Blue Bag for pickup.

Still, the city ultimately decided to phase out the Blue Bag program. Retired Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to do so in 2006, and two years later, the city announced the transition to the Blue Cart program. As Moore pointed out, that transition remains in progress.

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