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MAY 2007


Chicago’s effort to expand recycling

The City of Chicago is working hard to improve its recycling rate for the residential, commercial and institutional sectors. Pilot programs are ongoing and more will be initiated in the future.

To better understand what direction the city is moving towards and discuss some of it short-term and long-term goals, American Recycler spoke with Sadhu Johnston, the Commissioner for the Department of the Environment (DOE) and Mike Picardi, the Commissioner for the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS).

Q. What is the current landfill situation in the City of Chicago?

Johnston: We don’t have any of our own landfills and there are no landfills left in the city. There is a moratorium on landfills for 20 years that prevents expansion or development of any landfills in the city. The last landfill that was operating in the city is in the closure phase.

Q. How much is the City of Chicago looking to have every household, businesses and institutions recycle?

Johnston: As much as possible. We are working right now on a zero-waste plan for the city, which would include electronics, construction debris and household hazardous waste. We are working on a comprehensive plan that will outline what our goals are and how we are going to achieve those goals. The expansion of our Separate Collection Program (SCP) is a key part of that.

Q. Is the City of Chicago looking to emulate the best practices that have been developed in other jurisdictions?

Picardi: We are, but we need to be mindful of our budget. The pilot program (SCP) alone is costing us $2.8 million additional to our budget.

We want to make sure we are getting the best bang for the buck as we start to expand it and that does not include what we have projected receiving back from what we recycle. We are trying to expand recycling programs and still meet the bottom-line of our budget.

Unfortunately, recycling comes at a price. The price should not outweigh what we are trying to do because we are trying to clean up the environment. We have to do that and be fiscally responsible about it.

Q. Would you call on the state to pass a bottle bill law?

Picardi: The bottle bill is introduced every couple of years. It was re-introduced last year, but it got tabled quickly. The idea of doing something specific only to Chicago lost favor because we are so close with other suburban communities.

Q. Is the City of Chicago and neighboring municipalities trying to establish a common recycling policy?

Johnston: We do work closely with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, the organization co-founded by Mayor Richard Daley, which is a network of about 280 municipalities, who are participating. That conversation is taking place.

Q. What is the recycling industry asking of the city?

Picardi: We had some meetings with plastic recyclers to get specific types of the waste stream for their purposes. Glass is one of those things that people are starting to look at a little differently now. It has always been part of the waste stream and in the past there weren’t too many places that would not take it. That is starting to pick up now.

Q. What is the level of cooperation between the DSS and DOE?

Picardi: The DSS and DOE are cooperating to develop programs. We work seamlessly. Every program that we roll out we sign off together. They work with us every step of the way. Commissioner Johnston and myself, we consider ourselves ambassadors in recycling.

We are constantly out talking to our sister agencies – the Chicago Park District, Pier Authority, Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Transit Agency. We ask them to produce their recycling rates on a monthly basis and to encourage recycling.

Q. When do you expect to attain the 25 percent recycling goal and what would the next goal be?

Picardi: I’m hoping to reach the 25-percent goal with a combination of the blue bag program and pilots as soon as possible. I’d love to see zero waste, but we have to be realistic about it. If I am starting to see with the SCP that we are in the 30 to 35 percent range, I would be happy. We have to look at this realistically and set short-term goals.”

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