Blue Bins in, Bags out in Chicago Recycling Experiment

An experiment in replacing blue bags with blue bins received unanimous approval from a City Council committee Monday.

CHICAGO — An experiment in replacing blue bags with blue bins received unanimous approval from a City Council committee Monday.

Under the pilot program, part of the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago's Southwest Side would become a blue-bag-free zone beginning April 1.

About 850 households will be asked to place paper, plastic and metal recyclables into 96-gallon blue bins that the city will distribute.

City trucks will make weekly runs to pick up the recyclables separately from other garbage in the test area bounded by 99th and 103rd Streets, Western Avenue and Longwood Drive.

Aldermen and environmental activists expressed enthusiasm for the program and called for expanding it to other parts of Chicago.


But Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez again defended the controversial blue bag program, saying it would remain at the heart of the city's recycling efforts. Sanchez said blue bags provide "the easiest, most readily accessible way to recycle."

"We'll have the blue bag program in other areas," he told the council's Committee on Energy, Environmental Protection and Recycling.

Sanchez's comments echoed Mayor Richard Daley's long-standing support for blue bag recycling. For a decade, the Daley administration has pushed for households to place recyclable items in blue plastic bags, which are then piled together with other refuse in city trucks. Workers then manually separate the blue bags from the rest of the city's garbage at sorting centers.

Critics note that virtually all suburbs and other major cities have turned their noses up at the mayor's preferred approach. Most instead use a system very similar to the program that will be tested on the Southwest Side.

Recyclables collected in the pilot program will be taken 4 miles west to a center in Chicago Ridge. The city will pay the center's operator, Resource Management Cos., a processing fee of $59.75 per ton and collect all the proceeds from selling that recyclable material.

Ald. Ginger Rugai, the committee's chairman, welcomed the pilot program to her 19th Ward, where she said there is a strong interest in recycling. About 50 households in the test area already pay an environmental organization called the Resource Center about $60 a year to collect their recyclables rather than using blue bags.

The pilot program "will be very well received," Resource Center director Ken Dunn said.

The ordinance permitting the yearlong pilot program could receive final approval at the council meeting Tuesday.

It would be expanded to other parts of the city only if there is high participation and the approach is found to be cost-effective, Sanchez said.

About 10 percent of the city's residential garbage is recyclable paper, plastics, glass and metal.

Sanchez and aldermen boasted Monday of the city's success at increasing the recycling of Christmas trees. Chicagoans turned in almost 11,000 Christmas trees Saturday, more than tripling last year's total. Participants received a year's supply of blue bags for every tree.

The effort involved a major marketing push spearheaded by publicist Marilyn Katz. The "Turn Green to Blue" publicity blitz featured billboards on city buses and trains, radio ads, leaflets, brochures and posters.

"When they have information, people want to recycle," Katz said.

The city is spending $740,000 to promote recycling this year under a contract with Katz's firm, MK Communications.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News