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Singing the Recycling Blues

Julia gives us the run-down on pilot recycling program and offers helpful tips toward joining the recycling revolution.
Tuesday Apr 24, 2007.     By Julia Steinberger
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

After moving out of the college co-op, where the recycling bins always overflowed with 25 roommates' worth of sticky beer bottles and aluminum cans, I'm embarrassed to admit that my recycling habits have been decidedly lackluster. Though I raised my eyebrows at the notion of filling blue plastic trash bags with all of my non-separated recyclables (heck, no way was it going to be that easy), I still bought a cute, blue bucket and kept it stocked with the cute blue shopping bags that came free from Whole Foods.

My boyfriend called it the "feel-better bag," as in, it sure did make me feel better. We've all read numerous accounts by now of how miserable the blue bag attempt really is, with only 10 percent of recycled materials getting all the way through to re-use. On a trip to Whole Foods a few months ago, when I asked meekly if I could get my groceries in a blue bag, it was the cashier's turn to raise his eyebrows. They quit doing that, he said. "Ah, because they don't work?" I said. Again with the eyebrows.

Unless you believed in a team of magical trash-sorting fairies, was there really any surprise here? Wish it could be the other way around, but while using-and-disposing takes nearly no thought, recycling requires effort. Luckily, a new program gaining ground in Chicago means that it's just barely tougher than before (meaning my lazy self doesn't need to sort paper from plastics, etc.).

The Blue Cart program, testing this spring/summer in five Chicago wards, will hopefully make it a cinch to recycle glass, aluminum, tin and steel cans, cardboard, plastic and even stuff like magazines, telephone books, aluminum foil and junk mail. The instructions: Rinse out recyclable containers, fill up the bin, and a separate truck will haul it away for sorting and recycling. Eligible residences in the pilot wards (find your ward here), which include single-family homes and apartments in buildings of up to four units, will receive blue carts to start testing the program.

Since my building has six units, it's not eligible for the city's program, nor does my landlord provide a separate option just for us (large building owners are supposed to, but many do not). Until things change, the city offers drop-off boxes in a range of neighborhoods, where I can dump the same range of rinsed recyclables.

Though it's another chore to add to my list, the nearest drop-bin is not too far from my place, and I just can't argue with the logic of keeping re-useable products out of the waste stream. So I took responsibility and hauled my first bag to the Household Products and Electronics Collection & Training Center, where a giant box was waiting to swallow it all back upů and, according to the city, save it for sorting and eco-minded recycling.

Joining the Recycling Revolution? Keep These Tips in Mind:

Yard waste will not be recovered in the Blue Cart program, so leave your clippings and trimmings out of the cart. Instead, bag the stuff separately and place it beside your blue cart, and a separate truck will collect it for composting.

Household electronics and other potentially hazardous waste (cell phones and batteries included!) should not be put in Blue Carts or drop-off bins, nor should they be placed in the trash, lest they leak dangerous chemicals. Drop TVs and other unwanted electronics at the Household Products and Electronics Collection & Training Center.

Want to be part of the recycling process in a direct way? Shop for industry castoffs that can be re-used as art and educational supplies at the Resource Center, and do double duty: You'll save useful products from landfills, and your dollars will support Center programs like CityFarm.

After four greener-than-average college years as a co-op dweller-turned-aspiring-permaculturist, Julia Steinberger finds it hard not to feel guilty about her one-bedroom apartment, daily commute and indulgence in the occasional dollar burger. She'd like to dream that she could live in a tent/treehouse/rabbit hole, but the truth is, she'd rather stay in the city while doing her best to leave a lighter footprint on the earth. You can contact her here.


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