WBEZ | garbage http://www.wbez.org/tags/garbage Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en What really happens to Chicago's blue cart recycling? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-really-happens-chicagos-blue-cart-recycling-112302 <p><p>Sara Bibik waited years for her blue cart. In February 2014, Chicago finished rolling out the curbside or alleyway recycling containers to every small residential building in the city, fulfilling a promise first made seven years earlier.</p><p>&ldquo;We were one of the last wards to get blue bins, so we had Blue Bags for a long time,&rdquo; says Bibik, referring to <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-05-03/news/0805020335_1_blue-bag-program-blue-bags-cart">the city&rsquo;s previous, unsuccessful recycling program</a>. The city&rsquo;s Blue Bag system was notoriously expensive and ineffective, and after 13 years of trying to launch a citywide recycling campaign, Chicago ditched the program.</p><p>Despite the distrust many had for Chicago&rsquo;s blue bags, Bibik and her family had kept using them.</p><p>&ldquo;You felt like it was working. We still did it,&rdquo; she said. She&rsquo;s glad to have a blue cart now, but fears all her work recycling might be for nothing.</p><p>Like many Chicagoans, Bibik, a dance teacher who lives in the Edison Park neighborhood, remains skeptical about her local government&rsquo;s ability to recycle effectively:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>I want to know if our city&rsquo;s blue bin recycling actually gets recycled.</em></p><p>&ldquo;I hope it&#39;s true,&rdquo; says Bibik, 47. &ldquo;I have two kids, 14 and 11. They do love to recycle and they get angry if they see recycling in the garbage. I&#39;ve trained them well.&rdquo;</p><p>But, she asks, is it all going to the landfill anyway? Is recycling all a sham?</p><p>To answer her question we&rsquo;re going to follow the trash from Chicago alleyways all the way through the elaborate sorting facilities where recycled stuff gets prepped for its second act. We&rsquo;ll find out how much of that stuff gets thrown out by the many hands that handle it along the way. And we&rsquo;ll learn how recycling connects average recyclers like Bibik to bauxite miners on the other side of the planet.</p><p>When it comes to recyclables ending up in the landfill, things are a lot less bleak than Bibik secretly suspects &mdash; recycling in Chicago is not a sham &mdash; but there are reasons to wonder if the city underestimates how much of its &ldquo;recycled&rdquo; products actually end up as garbage.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/thealleywayfinal.png" style="height: 345px; width: 620px;" title="(Flickr/zenia)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Not everything makes it out of the alleyway. If garbagemen open the lid of a blue recycling bin and see trash, they slap an orange sticker on that cart, flagging it for the next garbage truck. The city then sends a letter to the bin&rsquo;s owner.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of people put bags in there, you know, The Jewel[-Osco] bags, Glad bags that are not supposed to be in the recycling,&rdquo; says Ken Baran, a worker for Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation. Other common recycling mistakes, he says: styrofoam and number six plastic. (<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/recycling1/blue_cart_residentialrecyclingacceptedmaterials.html">DSS posts a guide to accepted recyclables online,</a> and on top of its blue carts.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tolandfillorangesticker.png" style="float: right; height: 188px; width: 200px;" title="About 4.5 percent of blue cart users received an orange sticker from the City in 2014. That means all that potentially recyclable material is sent to a landfill. " /></div><p>&ldquo;We have good parts of city and bad parts of the city,&rdquo; says Baran.</p><p>Baran sees clunkier contaminants, too: soccer balls, garden hoses, yard waste. Workers will sometimes remove any obvious items from the top of a blue cart and dump the rest onto the truck to be recycled. Otherwise, they leave the load with an orange sticker.</p><p>Last year 27,199 households got at least one of those stickers, or about 4.5 percent of blue cart users. About 1 percent of blue cart homes continued to mistakenly (or purposefully) recycle garbage, and ended up with three or more stickers by the end of 2014.</p><p>Chicagoans sent off almost 103,845 tons of stuff into their blue carts last year, and about eight times as much into their black garbage bins. That&rsquo;s an all-time high, and about 90,600 tons more than in 2007, the program&rsquo;s launch year.</p><p>When their truck is full, Baran and his colleagues drive to one of the city&rsquo;s transfer stations, preparing Chicago&rsquo;s trash for its potentially global odyssey.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/transferstation.png" style="height: 345px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Seagulls cruise over two house-sized mounds of refuse in an empty warehouse. If it&rsquo;s carrying garbage, Baran&rsquo;s truck will dump its contents into a pile on the east side of the room, or in the western pile if it&rsquo;s carrying recycled material. First he&rsquo;ll have his truck weighed.</p><p>This transfer station is at 34th Street &amp; South Lawndale Avenue, next door to the defunct Crawford coal plant. Chicago owns three such facilities, but they are privately operated. Put another way: The transfer stations are where Chicago&rsquo;s recycling becomes someone else&rsquo;s stuff. The city sells its recyclables to two private companies: Waste Management and Resource Management. (Waste Management buys about twice as much as Resource Management.)</p><p>&ldquo;There&#39;s not much that occurs in terms of any sort of processing here &mdash; it&#39;s like materials dumped out on the floor and it&rsquo;s hauled out of here to some other location,&rdquo; says Chris Sauve, recycling director for the city&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation.</p><p>At this point, almost everything from Chicago&rsquo;s blue bins is still destined for recycling, except for whatever&rsquo;s left in the alley with orange contamination stickers. Almost two-thirds of Chicago&rsquo;s blue cart recycling is paper, however, and if it&rsquo;s soaked with enough rainwater the whole load has to be landfilled. Sauve says this is so rare that they don&rsquo;t keep numbers on it.</p><p>Under five-year contracts that go through 2018, Waste Management and Resource Management agree to buy Chicago&rsquo;s goods at a price that the city adjusts every quarter based on global commodity markets. To account for the costs associated with buying the city&rsquo;s trash, such as hauling and dealing with contamination, Waste Management and Resource Management get to buy at a slight discount, in a sense &mdash; in fact, Resource Management essentially gets paid to take the city&rsquo;s glass.</p><p>Since all the recycling is mixed together in what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;single-stream&rdquo; program, the city multiplies the quarterly price of each commodity by its proportion in Chicago&rsquo;s waste stream, based on <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/zero_waste/2009_chicago_wastecharacterizationstudyandwastediversionstudyres.html">the city&#39;s 2009 waste characterization study</a>. As mentioned, paper and cardboard make up 68 percent of the average ton of blue cart material by weight. Glass is about 11 percent, plastic 4 percent, and metal 3.2 percent.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/sortingcenter.png" style="height: 345px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><div><p>After they send trucks to scoop up recyclables from the giant piles at transfer stations, Waste Management and Resource Management send them through an elaborate industrial process to separate out the goods by material.</p><p>I visit one of these sorting facilities, operated by Waste Management, on the far Southeast Side of the city. It&rsquo;s just on the other side of highway from Beaubien Forest Preserve. There I meet Mike Tunney, Waste Management&rsquo;s area director of recycling. Between this and their other Chicago-area facility, Waste Management processes approximately 24,000 tons of recycling every month (only about 5,000 tons comes from the blue cart program).</p><p>About 600 hundred tons of recycled material pile up here each working day, Tunney says &mdash; a fact that&rsquo;s evident from the ceiling-high mountains of trash and heavy truck traffic. To get it ready for its customers, Waste Management sends the mixed-up waste through a labyrinth of conveyor belts, high-tech machines, and actual people who &ldquo;manually recover&rdquo; certain items as they roll by with the rest of the trash.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tolandfill2.png" style="float: right;" title="Between 18 to 20 percent of material that arrives at Waste Management's sorting facilities is not recyclable. That includes items caked with too much food waste, as well as wet paper and strange items such as garden hoses and basketballs." /></div></div></div><p>&ldquo;In the first step of the process ... we have employees in front of a mechanical screens pulling out these large bulk items so that they don&#39;t get caught in the screens,&rdquo; Tunney says. &ldquo;Swimming pools, tarps, or kids&#39; toys, miscellaneous metals.&rdquo;</p><p>Humans also sift through paper goods on conveyor belts in the facility&rsquo;s &ldquo;fiber sorting room,&rdquo; and perform quality control at several other points. But most of the work is automated. Giant blowers waft paper over a sieve for heavier materials like metal. A row of spinning wheels bounces plastic containers along &mdash; as long as plastic bags and food waste haven&rsquo;t gummed up the gears.</p><p>Sorting through trash is surprisingly high-tech. Several types of electromagnetic filters &mdash; fiber magnets, eddy currents &mdash; recover more valuables. There&rsquo;s even an optical sorter that discerns different types of plastic using a laser.</p><p>But what about the stuff that doesn&rsquo;t make it past this step? Tunney says 18 to 20 percent of what goes into their facility doesn&rsquo;t make it out because they can&rsquo;t recycle it. It&rsquo;s &ldquo;contamination&rdquo; like we see with the orange stickers in the alley. A few examples are laid out on the factory floor: a basketball, a garden hose, even a Listerine bottle full of hypodermic needles. I see dozens of plastic bags stretched and wrapped around gears in a dormant machine &mdash;&nbsp;garbage, and a costly hassle for Waste Management. Paper that&rsquo;s too wet won&rsquo;t make the cut, and neither will anything too caked with food waste. The needles go to biohazard disposal. The rest? It all ends up in a landfill.</p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/zero_waste/2009_chicago_wastecharacterizationstudyandwastediversionstudyres.html">The 2009 waste characterization study</a> is also where the city gets its estimate of contamination in the waste stream, or how much of the blue cart material Waste Management and Resource Management will have to eventually throw out because it can&rsquo;t be recycled. According to the city, that number is 13.8 percent, or about 14,330 tons in 2014.</p><p>Resource Management and Waste Management say that number, which was based on 2007 data, is actually much higher now. Greg Maxwell, senior vice president at Resource Management, said it can be as high as 30 percent. Waste Management&rsquo;s Mike Tunney quoted their contamination rate at 18 to 20 percent. If those numbers are correct, the city&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation could be underestimating the amount of &ldquo;recycled&rdquo; blue cart material that ultimately ends up in a landfill by 4,361 to 16,822 tons.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/globaljourney.png" style="height: 347px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Where do the bales of bundled recyclables go? All over the world. A lot of paper and plastic goes overseas, often to China. <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304444604577337702024537204">By number of cargo containers, the leading U.S. export to China is scrap</a>. (Actually in recent years <a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-02-18/chinas-green-fence-cleaning-americas-dirty-recycling">China has turned away barges of trash and recycling from the U.S., </a>deeming it too dirty or low-value.)</p><p>Coca-Cola or Anheuser-Busch might buy bales of old aluminum cans to cut the raw material costs of making new cans from scratch. International Paper might buy up recycled paper. Or local companies like Pure Metal Recycling might buy bales of bulk metal, segregate the materials by chemical purity, and sell those new bales to smelters and steel mills.</p><p>Kyle Witter shows me around Pure Metal Recycling&rsquo;s scrap yard in the McKinley Park neighborhood. They sift through all types of metal waste &mdash; curly shavings of aluminum, empty beer cans, I even glimpse a piece of an old CTA bus &mdash; and send it to manufacturers. They say all their steel ends up at steel mills within 200 miles of the city. There, it&rsquo;s melted down and made into everything from steel tubes to components for power tools.</p><p>But only a small portion of this material starts in your blue carts or curbside bins &mdash; less than 2 percent, according to chief administrative officer Dennis Schalliol. Most of what I see is car parts, the innards of thousands of automobiles. By some measures automobile recycling rakes in $22 billion annually.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="true" frameborder="0" height="377" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15gZvU91wYz4-UkKpabe598VBBxzlM8PTn1ZsBPEGg8c/embed?start=false&amp;loop=false&amp;delayms=3000" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="620"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>PHOTOS:</strong> The scrapyard at Pure Metal Recycling in Chicago&#39;s McKinley Park neighborhood. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)</span></span></em></p><p>Forklifts stack cubes of compressed aluminum two stories high. Witter points out a row of aluminum 6111 alloy cubes, which Ford will buy to use in its all-aluminum body Ford F-150 pickup trucks.</p><p>I do see daunting mounds of aluminum cans that likely started in the blue carts of people like our question asker Sara Bibik. But according to <a href="http://shanghaiscrap.com/">Adam Minter</a>, who wrote a book about the global recycling trade called <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Junkyard-Planet-Travels-Billion-Dollar-Trash/dp/1608197913">Junkyard Planet</a>, commercial and industrial recycling operations dwarf municipal programs like Chicago&rsquo;s blue cart.</p><p>&ldquo;We all as Americans think of recycling as putting something in the blue bin. But the blue bin only represents somewhere in the range of 5 to 15 percent of what&#39;s recycled in the United States,&rdquo; Minter says. &ldquo;It&#39;s a very very small piece of the pie. And it&#39;s a very expensive piece of the pie.&quot;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Markets squeezed</span></p><p>Someone has to be making money after all this, right?</p><p>&ldquo;With respect to the value of the materials we know that we&#39;re in a commodities business and sometimes that value is up and sometimes the value is down,&rdquo; says Waste Management&rsquo;s Mike Tunney. &ldquo;And we&#39;re hopeful that the markets will return to their five-year averages, but right now it&#39;s a difficult proposition, no question.&rdquo;</p><p>How&rsquo;s the market treating Chris Sauve, the city&rsquo;s recycling director?</p><p>&ldquo;It&#39;s not a money losing operation,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;we&#39;re just not receiving any reimbursement that would help pay enough to offset the cost of the operations.&rdquo;</p><p>That might be par for the course. Like a lot of cities, Chicago got into a low-margin business when commodity prices were up. In 2007, when the city&rsquo;s blue cart program got started, commodities markets were soaring through what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;supercycle,&rdquo; and arguably into a bubble.</p><p>According to author and journalist Adam Minter that market is cyclical.</p><p>&ldquo;There&#39;s really nothing unusual. It&#39;s just that your municipality, Chicago, has gotten involved in the commodity business, and commodities go up and they go down. You&#39;ve gotta ride it out,&rdquo; Minter says.</p><p>The thing is, recycling is not an easy business &mdash; especially for a municipality compelled to provide it as a public service.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&#39;re starting a business the first thing you think isn&#39;t &lsquo;How much stuff can I make.&rsquo; It&#39;s &lsquo;How much stuff can I sell&rsquo;. In other words you&#39;re thinking about &lsquo;Is there a demand for my product.&rsquo; But the way municipal recycling programs work is they start from the other end. They say &lsquo;We need to collect as much recycling as possible then we&#39;ll figure out where to sell it.&rsquo; Well that&#39;s not a very good business model, you know.&rdquo;</p><p>But it may not be as bad questioner Sara Bibik fears. Remember, she wonders if recycling in Chicago was just a feel-good sham.</p><p>&ldquo;Recycling isn&#39;t a sham. It&#39;s a half-trillion dollar industry globally,&rdquo; says Minter. &ldquo;What you put in your recycling bin is put there so somebody else can consume it. You&#39;re doing an environmental good deed, but you&#39;re also competing directly with, say, a bauxite miner who is pulling bauxite out of the ground to be made into aluminum cans. You&#39;re competing against an iron ore miner or you&#39;re competing against a logger &mdash; you&#39;re part of a commodity business.&rdquo;</p><p>Sara Bibik might not have realized her recycling was feeding into this giant, global trade, or that for the last several years that that business has ebbed and flowed largely with demand from manufacturers in China. But she&rsquo;s just happy to know it&rsquo;s getting recycled at all. Even if at least 20 percent of it is &ldquo;contaminated&rdquo; and ends up in the landfill anyway.</p><p>&ldquo;That&#39;s a lot better than 100 percent. I mean I voted for both Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel, but I quite honestly didn&#39;t have confidence that that the contract was really being done on this recycling. Well, that&#39;s great to hear that it&#39;s even you know let&#39;s say worst case scenario it&#39;s 80 percent [recovered]. That&#39;s pretty exciting to me,&rdquo; says Bibik. &ldquo;Hopefully the trash piles are not getting filled as quickly and we&#39;re not building new ones. And that&#39;s also really exciting.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bibbik.jpg" style="float: left; height: 400px; width: 300px;" title="Questioner Sara Bibik." /><span style="font-size:22px;">Meet the question asker</span></p><p>Sara Bibik grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, but moved to Chicago when she was 18. For the last 15 years she&rsquo;s been raising two kids with her husband, Jeff, in the Edison Park neighborhood. And she&rsquo;s been teaching those kids, 14-year-old Zoe and 11-year-old Jake, how to recycle.</p><p>&ldquo;We just had a party, so there were some soda cans in the trash and the kids are all like, &lsquo;Oh! They should be in the recycling!&rsquo;&rdquo; says Bibik, 47. The family started recycling when the city began offering Blue Bags in 1995 and kept up with it until the program was discontinued in 2008.</p><p>Between the Blue Bag and the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/recycling1/blue_cart_recycling.html">blue cart program</a>s, Bibik even took her recycling to a dropoff center in a nearby forest preserve rather than throw it out.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a little annoying but not terrible,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;You still did it.&rdquo;</p><p>Bibik says she waited years for a blue cart, and now that she has one she wants to know more about what actually happens to all the stuff her family dutifully throws in there.</p><p>She says now she&rsquo;ll make sure the paper in her recycling bin stays dry so less of it gets thrown out as &ldquo;contamination.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&#39;s important for our Earth. I think it&#39;s important that we don&#39;t contaminate the water in the soil and the air with our burning of trash,&rdquo; says Bibik. &ldquo;It seems we&#39;re supposed to be good stewards of this Earth.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley is a freelance journalist</a> who reports regularly for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow him at<a href="http://cabentley.com/">cabentley.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></div></div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-really-happens-chicagos-blue-cart-recycling-112302 Chicago garbage collectors: Will they really take that? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-garbage-collectors-will-they-really-take-109881 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/140433257&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>WBEZ listener Ken Coulman has been having dirty thoughts, specifically regarding the garbage in his alleyway. He&rsquo;s seen all kinds of dumping habits, from random contractors offloading items behind his house to neighbors sneakily leaving oversized items in alleyways not their own. In their stealthy haste, they make a mess.</p><p>As a homeowner in Chicago&rsquo;s Humboldt Park neighborhood, these behaviors troubled Ken. Recently, when he spotted a stack of old tires piled by the garbage, he called Curious City with this question:<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ken_curiouscity.jpg" style="width: 150px; height: 200px; float: right;" title="Ken Coulman asked Curious City about the limits of garbage removal. (Photo courtesy Ken Coulman)" /></p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What&rsquo;s the city&rsquo;s official policy on garbage pick up? Do they take anything that you put out?</em></p><p>While taking on Ken&rsquo;s question, we learned that a pretty straightforward pickup policy provides some city workers with a unique &mdash; and sometimes unflattering &mdash; view of life in Chicago.</p><p><strong>Size doesn&rsquo;t matter</strong></p><p>For our answer, we turned to Gloria Pittman, a supervisor at Chicago&rsquo;s Bureau of Sanitation, which serves 600,000 households in Chicago. These households are limited to single-family homes or buildings with four units or less. Pittman oversees garbage collection for seven wards from Pilsen to Jackson Park. She&rsquo;s previously worked on the front lines as a garbage collector herself.</p><p>We met Pittman at her office on the Southwest Side and asked Ken&rsquo;s question: Is there a limit to what you&rsquo;ll take?</p><p>&ldquo;We will pick up almost anything,&rdquo; Pittman said. &ldquo;It is our objective to pick up everything that&rsquo;s in front of the truck, be it trash, sofas, on occasion electronics such as refrigerators, stoves.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, size doesn&rsquo;t matter. There&rsquo;s no size limit to what residents are allowed to throw out, as long as it&rsquo;s regular household garbage.</p><p>The department accommodates big items with what&rsquo;s called &ldquo;a special pick up.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s simply a heads-up to garbage collectors to carve out more time. While picking up a few regular canisters outside one house takes about 30 seconds, disposing of something more sizable, like a sectional couch, may take a few minutes. That heads-up can help make the process more efficient.</p><p>Pittman said collectors are usually notified by supervisors who monitor the alleys. But preferably, the notification originates from residents who call Chicago&rsquo;s 311 service line. Pittman says you can <a href="https://servicerequest.cityofchicago.org/web_intake_chic/Controller?op=locform&amp;invSRType=SCC&amp;invSRDesc=Garbage%20Pickup&amp;locreq=Y">request additional garbage bins</a> online, if need be.</p><p>&ldquo;Notification from the resident really helps us out a great deal,&rdquo; said Pittman.</p><p>Chicagoans in the tattling mood can also help by <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/provdrs/streets_san/svcs/sanitation_ordinance.html">reporting persistent sanitation code violations</a>.</p><p><strong>Down in&nbsp;the dumps &hellip; at a special collection</strong></p><p><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/Garbage+gifs/USE+2.gif" style="width: 320px; height: 180px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 0px; float: right;" /><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/Garbage+gifs/USE+1.gif" style="width: 320px; height: 180px; margin: 0px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; float: right;" /></p><p>To see how a regular pick-up differs from a special pick-up, we ventured into the back alleys in Chicago&#39;s Gage Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/Garbage+gifs/USE+3.gif" style="width: 320px; height: 180px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 0px; float: right;" />A blue sanitation truck rolled through a snow-covered alley. Two workers hooked trash bins onto something called &ldquo;the flip,&rdquo; which, as its name implies, flips bins upside down into the truck. A heavy blade crushed and scooped the trash into the inner chamber.</p><p>Hook. Flip. Crush. Repeat.</p><div>The workers had a nice rhythm &mdash; until they ran across what looked like the remnants of an extreme home makeover. Pittman was on site and surveyed the heap of furniture.</div><p>&ldquo;This is a loveseat, a desk, parts of a table, an end table, a couple mattresses, some chairs and an ottoman,&rdquo; she said, laughing.</p><p>The garbage collectors declined an interview. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s kind of dangerous when I talk and work,&rdquo; said one as he reached for a piece of furniture.</p><p>And he was right. There was heavy lifting to do. A crushing blade tore through wood and nails. Sharp debris spit out the back. I watched a mattress flop into the back of the truck. It splintered into pieces.</p><p>&ldquo;And as you see, the blade is breaking that up and taking it on in,&rdquo; Pittman observed. &ldquo;It basically makes room as it goes along.&rdquo;</p><p>Eight minutes later, it&rsquo;s all been gobbled up.</p><p>&ldquo;As you can see, everything is gone. Hopefully the residents are happy,&rdquo; said Pittman.</p><p><strong>Some limits do apply</strong></p><p>Even though there&rsquo;s no size limit, Pittman noted that there are other kinds of limits. Most Chicago residents think, &ldquo;If it&rsquo;s garbage to you, it should be garbage to us,&rdquo; but that&rsquo;s simply not the case, she said.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pittman%20mug%20shot.png" style="float: left; height: 162px; width: 240px;" title="Gloria Pittman supervises trash collection for the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, and was a previous garbage collector. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" />For example, say you rehab a room by yourself. You can throw the debris in the garbage. It&rsquo;s no problem, at least when it comes to city policy. But if a contractor does it for you, that contractor is required to take away the refuse. But not all residents abide by that rule; Pittman has seen plenty of instances where an entire gut renovation has been dumped in an alley. In those cases, the department has a conversation with the resident.</p><p>&ldquo;We try not to fine,&rdquo; said Pittman, noting that the department focuses on communicating expectations with residents. &ldquo;We want compliance.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s also a hassle when residents don&rsquo;t bag their trash properly. &ldquo;When they have to clean up things that people have just thrown out willy nilly &mdash; that kind of breaks up their rhythm,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Another problem is fly dumping. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s where a large truck or car has dumped a large amount of garbage &mdash; usually in desolate areas,&rdquo; explained Pittman.</p><p>The Bureau of Sanitation will not collect hazardous materials and certain electronics such as computers and cell phones. Residents can dispose of these items, such as household cleaners and oil-based paints, at the city&rsquo;s Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility. The city provides information about <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdph/supp_info/hccrf/household_chemicalscomputerrecyclingfacilityoverview.html">that facility and what it accepts</a>.</p><p>The worst thing Pittman&rsquo;s ever run across? Dead animals and human waste. Pittman said residents with dead pets should call 311; a refrigerated truck will do the pick up. And as for human waste, well, come on now.</p><p>Pittman let us in on one of the classic jokes among garbage collectors. &ldquo;You can find out a lot about people with the trash that they throw out.&rdquo;<a name="pittmanguide"></a></p><p><strong>A reason for hope</strong></p><p>I followed up with our question-asker, Ken Coulman, to get his reaction to all of this. The dead animal and human waste details certainly grossed him out.</p><p>&ldquo;Eeh &hellip; that&rsquo;s not cool,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>But when I explained the no-size limit policy, he was surprised.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not at all what I was expecting to find out,&rdquo; he said after a long pause.</p><p>He was also relieved.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s very interesting because I&rsquo;ve always kind of felt like you&rsquo;re probably doing something illegal by putting those big items out there,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s helpful to know that you don&rsquo;t need to be sneaky about it. You can call 311 and give them a heads up and be civil about it.&rdquo;</p><p>To Ken, this is good news. He hopes that now that people know they don&rsquo;t have to be sneaky, they&rsquo;ll stop being so sloppy.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s hoping, Ken.</p><p><em>Deborah Jian Lee is a freelance journalist and author. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/deborahjianlee">@deborahjianlee</a>.</em></p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="0.298379093615614" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="2078" id="doc_31924" scrolling="no" src="//www.scribd.com/embeds/213213263/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;access_key=key-18roq0sks1i1w0u8ngou&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 18 Mar 2014 17:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-garbage-collectors-will-they-really-take-109881 List: Five items that instantly lose their value once they touch the sidewalk http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2012-10/list-five-items-instantly-lose-their-value-once-they-touch-sidewalk <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/369205147_67e68f02db.jpg" title="(Flickr/soundfromwayout)" /></div><p>Inspired by something I saw outside my house yesterday. . .</p><p style="text-align: center; ">&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center; "><span id="internal-source-marker_0.7289316796563796">underwear</span><br /><br />mattresses<br /><br />pizza<br /><br />synthetic hair*<br /><br />balloons</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>*If you need some, though, there is a bunch of it on the corner of Kenmore and Berwyn.</p></p> Tue, 02 Oct 2012 08:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2012-10/list-five-items-instantly-lose-their-value-once-they-touch-sidewalk America's addiction to trash http://www.wbez.org/worldview/2012-07-03/americas-addiction-trash-100618 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/452302178_808c677d23_z.jpg" title="(Flickr/mararie)" /></p><p>What&#39;s America&#39;s largest export? According to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.edwardhumes.com/" target="_blank">Edward Humes</a>, the surprising answer&nbsp;is trash.&nbsp;</p><p>Humes writes about America&#39;s trash problem in his new book <a href="http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781583334348,00.html" target="_blank"><em>Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash</em></a>. For Humes, wastefulness is one of the few big societal, economic and environmental problems over which ordinary individuals can exert control.&nbsp;</p><p>Tuesday on <em>Worldview</em>, Edward Humes discusses why the country is such a prolific producer of garbage.</p></p> Tue, 03 Jul 2012 10:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/worldview/2012-07-03/americas-addiction-trash-100618 Worldview 7.3.12 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-07/worldview-7312-100617 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/3720085161_354b8d09b1_z.jpg" title="(Flickr/ Näystin)" /></p><p>Tuesday on <em>Worldview</em>:</p><p>Mexico&rsquo;s Institutional Revolutionary Party, also known as the PRI, has returned to power with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto, who won the country&rsquo;s presidential election on Sunday. The PRI had dominated the country&rsquo;s politics for more than 70 years but was swept out of government in 2000. Peña Nieto has promised a series of reforms but many Mexicans remain skeptical that the party has really transformed itself.</p><p><em>Worldview </em>talks with <a href="http://www.johnackerman.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">John Ackerman</a>, a law professor at the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, about the election&#39;s implications. David Vidal, a member of the Mexican student movement <a href="http://yosoy132.mx/" target="_blank">YoSoy132</a>, also joins the conversation. YoSoy was hoping to see a defeat of Pena Nieto.</p><p>Then, America&rsquo;s largest export is trash. <a href="http://www.edwardhumes.com/" target="_blank">Edward Humes</a>, author of <a href="http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781583334348,00.html" target="_blank"><em>Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash</em></a> tells <em>Worldview </em>why the country is such a prolific producer of garbage.</p></p> Tue, 03 Jul 2012 10:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-07/worldview-7312-100617 Where does our garbage go? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-06/where-does-our-garbage-go-100248 <p><p>In late May, the Illinois House approved a measure that would prevent any new landfills from opening, or any existing landfills from expanding, inside Cook County. The proposal has already been approved by the State Senate, and now it&rsquo;s awaiting Gov. Quinn&rsquo;s signature. We wondered why the state was worried about landfill legislation at this time.&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/A%20Bulldozer%20spreads%20garbage%20on%20a%20landfill.jpg" title="A Bulldozer spreads garbage on a landfill. (Flickr/WI Dept. of Natural Resources)" /></div><p>It turns out there&rsquo;s a tousle going on on the southeast side of Chicago. The dispute is between community groups, environmentalists, and some pols on one side, and a company called Land and Lakes and other pols on the other side. Ground zero is <a href="https://maps.google.com/maps?q=138th+and+cottage+grove+dolton,+IL&amp;ie=UTF-8&amp;hq=&amp;hnear=0x880e21386b01bc63:0x57f5fd65feecda46,Cottage+Grove+Ave+%26+E+138th+St,+Dolton,+IL+60827&amp;gl=us&amp;ei=j9vhT4ijFIfM2gW5nZG7Cw&amp;ved=0CAsQ8gEwAA">138th and Cottage Grove</a>. It&rsquo;s actually the city of Dolton, and it&rsquo;s where Land and Lakes operates a huge landfill. It&rsquo;s a stone&rsquo;s throw from the Altgeld Gardens housing projects, and just to the west of the Hegewisch neighborhood. Land and Lakes wants to expand to an 86 acre site that currently belongs to the city.</p><p>But back in 1984, the Chicago City Council put the kibosh on new or expanded landfills. In 2005, the City Council re-upped those same measures for an additional 20 years. &nbsp;So the company dangled some large numbers in front of Dolton&rsquo;s board. Cash the village would supposedly receive if it were to annex the 86 acres from Chicago and allow Land and Lakes their expansion. The Tribune said the number quoted was <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-05-24/news/ct-met-landfill-dispute-0524-20120524_1_landfill-ban-land-and-lakes-active-landfill">$36 million over 25 years</a> that Dolton would bring in thanks to the expansion. That&rsquo;s a lot of dough for a village that could really use it. A Cook County judge has already ruled in favor of Land and Lakes. &nbsp;We&rsquo;ll have to see what happens next as things work their way through the courts.&nbsp;</p><p>But the drama playing out down at the bend of the Little Calumet River got us thinking...most of us have no idea where our garbage goes. Yeah, a couple of guys in a really smelly truck come down our alleys-or our streets if you live in the suburbs-and then it&rsquo;s gone. But how far does it travel? Where does it end up? How long does it take to get there? Can it just keep going to that same place forever? Even as humans expand our ability and desire to recycle, we continue to generate refuse. How will we think about its disposal in the future?</p><p>Wednesday on <em>Afternoon Shift</em>, we get some answers from David Lee. &nbsp;He&rsquo;s a Ph.D. Candidate in Urban Studies and Planning, and a graduate researcher attached to the <a href="http://senseable.mit.edu/" target="_blank">SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT</a>. &nbsp;Back in 2009 the lab did a project called <a href="http://senseable.mit.edu/trashtrack/">Trash Track</a>, where tiny sensors were attached to all manner of people&rsquo;s garbage. &nbsp; There&#39;s also some <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/26-trillion-pounds-of-garbage-where-does-the-worlds-trash-go/258234/">easy-to-understand but eye-opening charts</a> that Derek Thompson recently posted in The Atlantic.</p></p> Wed, 20 Jun 2012 09:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-06/where-does-our-garbage-go-100248 Trash problems in Chicago: Who you gonna call? http://www.wbez.org/story/trash-problems-chicago-who-you-gonna-call-93870 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-08/RS4094_Dear Chicago Green the fleet3.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago aldermen have long controlled a key city service: garbage pick-up. But not for long, says Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As part of our coverage this week of Emanuel's budget, we look at the politics of trash.</p><p>Right now, Chicago's garbage trucks are assigned to one of its 50 wards.</p><p>"No person designing a garbage collection system from scratch would base it on a political map," Emanuel told aldermen during his budget address in mid-October.</p><p>Emanuel wants to move to a grid system. Trucks would have straightforward routes instead of zig-zagging within squiggly ward boundaries. The administration said that'd save $20 million in the first year. Some aldermen have embraced the change, but not all.</p><p>"It's not about politics," said Ald. Roberto Maldonado of the West Side's 26th Ward, during an interview at his Humboldt Park office. "It is about efficiency, and making sure that my constituents will be reassured that they won't have any problems."</p><p>Maldonado said that, historically, "constituents hold accountable the alderman for the garbage collection."</p><p>So if he no longer controls trash pick-up, Maldonado wants residents to call "the mayor's office number" with trash complaints. But that already kind-of happens. It's 311, Chicago's non-emergency hotline. And from a quick survey in Maldonado's ward, people already do that.</p><p>"For things like that, you don't really need to call the aldermen," Robert Williams said. "You call 311."</p><p>"I just dial 311 since it's non-emergency and ask them to come pick up the garbage," said Ivan Rivera.</p><p>Shikita Carr said she calls the police to report garbage problems, and she claimed they respond. (Though maybe that's not the best advice.)</p><p>Still, those responses indicate residents already expect centralized services. Recycling - in areas where there is recycling - is picked up on a grid. And last year the city started "field testing" grid garbage pickup, though a Streets and Sanitation Department spokesman says there's no "hard data available" from the tests.</p><p>At a recent hearing, a handful of aldermen grumbled about Emanuel's plan and how few details have been released. The city is paying a consultant to chart out the grids using GIS mapping software. But those results aren't expected to be ready until after aldermen vote on the budget.</p></p> Wed, 09 Nov 2011 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/trash-problems-chicago-who-you-gonna-call-93870 Emanuel considers a revamp of Chicago's garbage collection system http://www.wbez.org/story/emanuel-considers-revamp-chicagos-garbage-collection-system-90541 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-12/IMG_0836.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday he might change the way the city collects garbage. According to Emanuel, Chicago spends too much on trash pick-up -&nbsp;more than $200 a ton - compared to cities like Los Angeles or Philadelphia.&nbsp;</p><p>Currently, the city collects trash using a ward-by-ward program, but Emanuel said the city could save $60 million by switching to a city-wide grid system.</p><p>"Can we do it better, cheaper, and more effective? And, this is one way to look at it. Now, if somebody has a better way to find $60 million in savings, the door is open, the suggestion box is open, bring it forward," he said.&nbsp;</p><p>The mayor he would not eliminate the ward superintendents, who deal with sanitation concerns in each ward. He called&nbsp;them "the most responsive element to a community," and said he would consider creating a new position to monitor the grid system</p><p>Emanuel <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/emanuel-announces-changes-recycling-program-chicago-89313">reiterated his plan </a>to revamp the city's recycling program as well, citing his desire for a "comprehensive policy" for trash collection.</p><p>"At every level of government, our city is stuck in decades' old policies we have not modernized for the 21st century," said Emanuel.</p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 12 Aug 2011 18:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/emanuel-considers-revamp-chicagos-garbage-collection-system-90541