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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Monday, February 26

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Shylo / October 13, 2004 11:34 AM

Blue Bags suck hard. Can't we have bins like the suburbanites?

miss ellen / October 13, 2004 11:35 AM

sadly, living in a large multi-tenant building, my trash is contracted out & blue-bags are not supported.

but, every night, like clockwork, the homeless come through & pick out all they can to recycle themselves. maybe i should start seperating it out for them....

anne / October 13, 2004 11:48 AM

I'm lucky I have an awesome landlord who had bins in the basement for plastic, glass, newspapers, and even mixed paper. We just have to bring it down there, then he takes it to a recycling center on the weekends. I haven't had to buy blue bags since I moved in!

Andrew / October 13, 2004 11:49 AM

We recycle. And ellen, it depends on which contractor you use -- Flood Bros. (claims they) recycle, and they didn't charge my old building extra for the service, as far as I know.

While Jewel and Dominick's switch to blue plastic grocery bags has probably helped a whole lot of people, it's sort of screwed up our system. We use grocery bags for our non-recyclable kitchen trash, so now the recycling centers are getting our veggie rinds and coffee grounds in addition to our paper and cans.

Mike / October 13, 2004 12:01 PM

The Chicago system of recycling is only matched by New York as the most ass-backwards evasion of a real solution I have ever seen. The blue bags are a joke.
There is a landfill in Grundy County somewhere filled to the smelly, sea-gull infested brim with bottles, cans and blue bags. Meanwhile everyone is wondering what the next innovation in the "Green Chicago Initiative" will be.
If we can't even learn to recycle properly, no one should even be allowed to use the words "Green" and "Chicago" in the same sentence.

Thurston / October 13, 2004 12:14 PM

I recycle but I think Chicago's program is a joke. I seriously doubt that very many blue bags go anywhere different than the others. Since one has to buy the blue bags, that effectively discourages many from participating.
When I lived in Seattle they had a program that was pure genius. There, we had to pay for garbage pick up, and you were charged acording to the size of the can you used, which was supplied by the trash company. They would also provide you with a huge recycling bin for free. They recycled everything that can possibly be recycled, including all paper products from junk mail to paper towels. If you recycled everything you could, you ended up with very little actual garbage. It was therefore in your financial best interest to recycle to reduce what would otherwise be a hefty garbage bill. That is the way to make everyone recycle. Most people don't really care about the environment. Everyone cares about money. The ticket thing Alderman Murphy proposed has good intentions but it seems unenforceable to me. What non-homeless person is going to dig through the garbage to determine who has or has not recycled?

MC High Life / October 13, 2004 12:59 PM

I'm a big recycler but don't use the Blue Bags. There is just something about seeing them get thrown into the same truck as all the other trash. Yeah, they supposedly sort it but who the hell knows how much is really done.

I just sort recyclables in bins at home and then run them up to the Resource Center on N. Pulaski every few weeks. They take glass, aluminum, steel, plastic, newspapers, magazines and even books. They let you root through the book pile (it is indoors) and take home what you like.

mia / October 13, 2004 1:01 PM

Miss Ellen, I had the same exact thought. It would be great to be able to buy an issue of streetwise for ten pop cans instead of maybe the lose change I have in the bottom of my bag. If there were a Homeless Depot we could drop our cans off at, say in our back alleys, I think everyone would be a lot happier. Buying blue bags and then driving out to who knows where (because I don't) in order to recycle is a big pain. But giving the task to the homeless is a great way to put them on salary. Cheers!

Michael / October 13, 2004 1:16 PM

Regrettably, I do not recycle because it is such a hassle in the city. Where my mother lives(Skokie)they initially had the orange bins and then switched to a second full-size "garbage" container soley for recyclables. I think Thurston's Seattle idea is one of the best ideas I've heard so far.

Heather S. / October 13, 2004 1:27 PM

You can recycle with blue Jewel or Dominick's grocery bags? Cool!
I sorta wish we had what Iowa and various other states have where you pay an extra $.05 per soda can/bottle so you can return it to the grocery store for a refund. Right now I put the cans in a bag and leave them out for homeless people.

amyc / October 13, 2004 1:45 PM

Illinois totally needs a bottle bill -- all those bottles and cans would vanish if you could get 10 cents for every one you returned (I paid for gas all through high school by returning my dad's Bud empties in Michigan).

Oak Park had a good system with separate trucks for trash and recycling pickup. That really seems like the only reasonable way to work something like this. Mashing all the bags together in the same truck is insane. Oh, and so is having Dominick's and Jewel use blue bags. You know what those bags are used for at my house? Dog poop.

Paula / October 13, 2004 1:48 PM

It's no fun buying blue bags, especially when they're put in the trash and you're left to wonder if they're ever really recycled.

I go to a Resource Center drop off site. There are a number of them.

Check out
for various drop-off locations. It is one of their many truly amazing and creative and progressive projects.

margot / October 13, 2004 2:34 PM

I stay at work pretty late every now and then, and it pains me to see the maintenance crew come in to clean the office and dump all of the recycling containers we have around the office into the general dumpster they cart around with them. Not in a separate bag, straight in with all the trash.

I get the feeling that most of the current recycling efforts in Chicago are just an illusion. If we can have a separate dumpster in the alleys just for grease, is it too much to ask to have one for recyclables too??

Xan / October 13, 2004 2:42 PM

Recycling in Chicago is a sick, sad joke.
It's embarassing.

As usual, Chicago is way behind.

Alfred / October 13, 2004 2:53 PM

Separate containers has to be the way to go, I agree. The blue bags you buy at the store were so flimsy, I'm sure most of the stuff i recycled ended up getting contaminated.

I would like to say that an incentive program for recycling would be much better than ticketing people but then where do you get the money?

But I do know if i was a Streetwise person I would punch the person who gave me cans instead of money.

Maggie / October 13, 2004 2:59 PM

Sadly, my apt. building does not have any recycling capabilities, so I do not. I always feel major guilt when I throw my pop cans and beer bottles into the trash. I will occasionally bring my newspapers to my parents house in Melrose Park to recycle - they have an excellent recycling system. Plastic in a blue bag, paper in brown paper grocery bags, cans - my mom leaves for the sweet homeless guy in the neighborhood.

Shylo / October 13, 2004 3:40 PM

Also, for those of us who use blue bags -- aren't they the worst plastic bags ever? They rip very easily and are impossible to tie.

Separate garbage pickup is a good idea, but I'm really interested in the Seattle method.

mia / October 13, 2004 4:06 PM

It was a joke Alfred. A joke. I hope your butt recovers well after you get the pole out of it. See that, I just recycled that comeback, I'm way ahead of chicago.

heather / October 13, 2004 5:04 PM

Penn and Teller did an episode of Bullshit on recycling that has me believing that chicago is no better or worse than other communities, in the long run.

Granted, I'm all for recycling - if it makes you feel good, then it's not hurting anyone to spend the extra time to sort your stash before dragging it to the curb or alley.

Craig / October 13, 2004 5:54 PM

We're all a fairly progressive-minded bunch of bloggers, so we care (or at least feign like we care due to liberal guilt) but think of the MAJORITY of the city residents who have NEVER even thought of recycling. It's depressing.

A sucessful recycling program MUST make it mindlessly simple for the 'consumer'. By requiring people to purchase those blue bags, not only are you asking them to care enough to spend their hard-earned money, but you're also adding an additional step of effort!

By the way, does anyone see the painful irony in putting your recyclables in a *plastic* sack that is only really used for the transport of the trash to the sorting center, then promptly shredded open and discarded? BINS PLEASE!

Steve / October 13, 2004 9:23 PM

I buy Hefty blue bags at Target -- them things are bulletproof. Nice, easy-tie handles, too.

I recycle like a mad man. Well, put stuff in blue bags, anyway. Where it goes after that is, as others have remarked, a bit uncertain.

Michael / October 13, 2004 11:44 PM

Xan -
As usual, Chicago is far behind. Please explain. Whether one likes Daley or not, the fact remains that Chicago is quite progressive for such a large metropolis. Our city has been heralded as one of the bike-friendliest cities in the country (despite our nearly year-round shitty weather). Furthermore, the mayor is constantly pushing for rooftop gardens and more parks and green space in general. And the city even has a program in place where any property owner can request that a tree be planted in their parkway, and the city will do it for free. Those are just a few examples off the top of my head. Sure, we have a long way to go, ESPECIALLY with recycling, but all in all, I think Chicago is on the right track.

Kris / October 14, 2004 2:28 AM

I shamefully admit that I don't really recycle—like Ellen I live in a large building with contracted trash service and no blue bag program, and since I don't have a car I can't work a drop-off program. My liberal guilt index is on orange alert.

My hometown in Arkansas has what I think is a pretty genius recycling program: the city recycles newspaper, mixed paper, cardboard, aluminum, steel, #1 and #2 plastics and glass in bins, and then for non-recyclable trash they only accept official city trash bags—which the city provides. Residents get a yearly supply which covers one 30-gal bag a week; if you use more than that, you buy more bags at a premium. (Apparently they've modified the policy to allow for larger households by having prorated fees for different size carts.) People bitched about it at first, of course, but then they got used to it, and it really encourages you to recycle everything you can.

Leroy / October 14, 2004 7:33 AM

I question the need for recycling paper.

Everytime I open my mailbox, I have three pounds of junk mail.

If the price of paper is soooo cheap anyone can fire advertising at me in such a scattershot manner, how can it possibly be economically feasible to recycle?

Or maybe we are just subsidizing waste by recycling? By helping to keep the price low? If the price rose, the junk mail would go away, and less paper would be used.

Tony / October 14, 2004 8:56 AM

A few thoughts - for those of you living in a high-rise building that doesn't provide a program, your building is required to by law. Call 311 and report your building - the City will send inspectors out (I know, I did it in my building).

Also, blue bags, while I don't necessarily agree with them, are recycled themselves at the sorting centers. I took a tour of a center once a number of years ago with a school group and they had bales of blue bags for recycling.

I like the idea of using one garbage cart for recyclables and one for garbage. And I think there should be an incentive for those who recycle, like a property tax break or a check from the City for $20 at the end of the year or something.

But the larger issue, as Leroy mentions, is the amount of stuff out there. I get loads of junk mail too. When I buy stuff at the store, there's always a lot of packaging. Call me a geek but I actually take bags with me to the grocery store so that I don't have to get plastic bags. It's reduce, reuse then recycle.

Xan / October 14, 2004 9:15 AM

Michael- I love Chicago, it's truly a great city. I grew up in Chicagoland, then spent ten years in California. I came back and am glad I did. Chicago has progressed beautifully as compared to the way it was/wasn't in the 80s and early 90s. The greenery, the foliage effort alone is incrediby impressive.


Come on, bike friendly? Yes, there are increasing bike lanes, but do people know what to do with them? I ride my bike here as much as possible, but feel less safe and respected on two wheels in the midwest than I did in the west (San Francisco excepted).

Chicago leads in some ways, follows in others. Recycling here is ridiculous and we lag behind other cities that have had it down for years.

Ruby / October 14, 2004 9:23 AM

Regarding junk mail, keep a sharpie around and write a big RTS on mail you don't want. It will eventually peeter out.
Worked for me. I hardly get any junk mail anymore. F'ing AOL finally stopped.

andrew / October 14, 2004 10:33 AM

I just took a tour of the sorting center near the Fullerton/Clybourn/Ashland triangle (huge warehouse behind the Wendys) yesterday and learned a whole lot. This center serves North Side residential buildings up to three flats, processing around 60 truckloads a day. It definitely changed the way I view Chicago's recycling program for the better. Here is what the manager of the center told us:

a) the conveyor belts and union employees pick through everything in the truck, including stuff in blue bags or not
b) 25% of waste is recycled at that center, although only 2% (of the total amount of waste) were in blue bags
c) the trucks pick up anything left in the alley, although the scrap metal scavangers get to most of the recyclable steel and iron first
d) recyclable materials are baled up and sold, all the aluminum cans go to Anheuser-Busch for example
e) organic waste is compressed and given to local organic farms
f) they process more newspaper and cat food cans on the North Side, and more booze bottles and cans on the South Side
g) the recycle stickers don't really work, they find far more stickers that have been thrown away than actually used
h) the main concern of switching to bins and separate trucks for recyclables is that currently they pick through all the waste, including that of people who don't recycle, because it all goes to the same place--but with separate centers that won't happen

wc / October 14, 2004 12:00 PM

What are all these homeless people doing with empty cans?

Cathy / October 14, 2004 1:32 PM

Thurston is right--the Seattle program makes sense. The secret to successful, profitable recycling is to separate the recyclables at the source and keep them separate. If they are in good shape, they will be worth more and profits will help fund the recycling program.

I watched a Streets and San guy throw a giant T.V. into a garbage truck, along with blue bags and other garbage. The truck's trash compactor crunched the giant T.V. into powder. What do you suppose happened to the bottles and newspapers and dog poo and whatever else was in the plastic bags next to it? If you were shopping for recyclable material, would you buy it? And how would you like to be the one who gets paid a sub-living wage to paw through all that mess in an attempt to glean something of value?

Seattle's powers-that-be must have wanted to create a workable system. Their counterparts in Chicago want to pretend to do so while keeping everything as it is. That way, they will not piss off Streets and San by changing the status quo or alienate voters by charging them for garbage pickup.

Brian / October 14, 2004 2:09 PM

One concern frequently raised about why garbage pick-up is essentially free in Chicago is sanitation. If you charge people money for garbage and they can't pay it, you'll find the trash in the river and in the parks. I don't know how Seattle handled that problem, but I'd be concerned.

We take it for granted that any old piece of furniture can be tossed in the alley and forgotten. Most suburbs don't allow you to do that except on 1 or 2 days a year.

The problem with any recycling program is that it's more work than not doing it. You could come up with the best system in the world, and it will still be more work for me to do it.

One concern is the yard waste. I'm glad to see an emphasis on composting and mulching your grass.

(I do recycle actually. And since I live close to the Resource Center, I think I'm going to make it part of the routine.)

eliina / October 14, 2004 2:11 PM

I lived in Worcester, MA (a mid-sized city, third biggest in New England supposedly) for a year, and was amazed by their recycling program. Recycling bins are free from the city, and you have to pay for yellow city trash bags.

I used to blue bag it, but my new roommate doesn't have much faith in the city system. We put recyclables in the basement of our building, and are planning on taking them to an independent recycling center one of these days...

Brian / October 14, 2004 2:13 PM

About deposits....

In California there was a 5 cent deposit and I barely saw anyone return their cans for the money. Sure, it's nice that the additional funds for the environment, but 10 cents isn't enough. Hike it up to 25 cents for small sodas and more for 2 liters and the like.

(Like the Oberweis milk containers. It's a 50 cent deposit. I bet they have a pretty high rate.)

Making not recycling a crime is dumb - it's unforcable. Rewarding people through deposits, I think, will be more effective. But the deposits have to be something that is worth more than 5 or 10 cents.

amyc / October 14, 2004 3:09 PM

I don't know, Brian. I grew up in Michigan with the 10-cent deposit rule, and there were never cans and bottles littering up the joint. A dime may not seem like much, but all those dimes add up quickly. One of my first jobs was as the bottle clerk at the grocery story, giving people money for bringing their cans and bottles back. There was not a lot of down time in that job -- I was always busy.

jkd / October 14, 2004 4:38 PM

Never beleived that that blue bag thang worked
I do it my self once a month drag it to a real recycler.

MC High Life / October 14, 2004 4:39 PM

Andrew: I've seen those centers in action on Chicago Works. I figured that is was more or less a PR thing and that as soon as the cameras were gone, the operation went to pot. I think WM is under contract to sort th etrash but I wonder how this is enforced. Are there city officials who monitor? Seems like a lot of the employees would just be lazy.

On the other hand, I used to be pretty nuts about recycling when I was handling trash for parking garages in Madison, WI. There would be two cans by each exit; one for trash, one for recyclables. I would always go through the trash bins and was amazed to discover the amount of recyclables in there. How hard is it to throw something in a can right next to it?

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