WBEZ | recycling http://www.wbez.org/tags/recycling 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 Why apartments are the blind spot in Chicago's recycling program http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-apartments-are-blind-spot-chicagos-recycling-program-111883 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/201003191&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Our question asker Quetzalli Castro grew up in a Logan Square two-flat. Her parents still live in that house on Kedzie Avenue. Among the many fond memories she remembers from growing up there is the day they got curbside recycling.</p><p>&ldquo;My parents were very happy about that,&rdquo; says Castro, 26. &ldquo;I remember grabbing jars and throwing them in there and seeing a big, blue truck come and take it away on I think it was Wednesdays.&rdquo;</p><p>Since then she&rsquo;s lived in several larger apartment buildings, but none of them has had recycling.</p><p>&ldquo;So I&#39;ve been caught trying to put my recycling into other people&#39;s recycling bins and they&#39;re like &lsquo;Put it in your own!&rsquo; I don&#39;t have one. I wish I did! I have all this recycling and nowhere to go,&rdquo; Castro says.</p><p>She&rsquo;s even called the city to ask about getting a blue cart, but says she didn&rsquo;t get a straight answer. So she asked Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Why is recycling not available to apartment buildings and certain parts of the city?</em></p><p>The short answer is that the city has a two-pronged system for recycling: Small buildings with four or fewer units get one system (the blue carts and bins Castro remembers) and buildings with five or more units are supposed to set up their own systems through private contractors.</p><p>But the real reason why Castro and perhaps hundreds of thousands of apartment dwellers like her end up throwing their recyclables in the dumpster is more complicated: It has to do with city politics, landfill economics and a toothless ordinance that has struggled to buoy recycling rates in large apartment buildings for 22 years.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waste piling up</span></p><p>Quetzalli Castro is not alone. In January Claire Micklin left an <a href="http://opengovhacknight.org/">Open Government Hack Night</a> with an interactive website designed to identify and shame owners of large apartment buildings without recycling. She called it <a href="http://www.mybuildingdoesntrecycle.com/">MyBuildingDoesntRecycle.com</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;I&#39;ve lived in Chicago 10 years and I&#39;ve never been in a building that has recycling,&rdquo; says Micklin, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now lives in an apartment building in the Edgewater neighborhood. &ldquo;I noticed the blue bins from next door, a four-flat, were overflowing because people from my building kept putting their recycling in there.&rdquo;</p><p>Like Castro, Micklin reached out to the city only to find herself more confused &mdash; there was no recourse for building residents like her who wanted to recycle, but whose landlords wouldn&rsquo;t provide the service.</p><p>Micklin did a little more research and learned the city passed a law in 1993 called <a href="http://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/sustainability-new/pdfs/REcycling%20Ordinance%20Chicago%2011%20%205.pdf">the Chicago High Density Residential and Commercial Source Reduction and Recycling Ordinance</a> (more commonly referred to as the Burke-Hansen ordinance, for the aldermen who drafted it). The ordinance made owners of large apartment buildings (defined as having at least five units) responsible for their own recycling, because the existing requirements for garbage pick-up made the same distinction. The city gave multi-unit building owners until 1995 to establish programs that would collect at least two kinds of recyclables. By 1996 they were all supposed to collect at least three. If they didn&rsquo;t, Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation could issue fines to the building owners for $25 to $100 per day.</p><p>But 22 years later it&rsquo;s common to find large apartment buildings without any recycling service at all. Less than three months after her site launched, Micklin says nearly 1,300 people have reported 1,034 addresses through MyBuildingDoesntRecycle.com.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://mybuildingdoesntrecycle.com/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/website%20screenshot.PNG" style="height: 223px; width: 620px;" title="The website mybuildingdoesn'trecycle.com has gained about 1,300 reports since its launch in January 2015. " /></a></div><p>The overall success of Chicago&rsquo;s residential recycling program could depend on the participation of large apartment and condo buildings. More than 442,000 housing units (just slightly more than forty percent of the city&rsquo;s total) are supposed to have recycling provided by landlords or condo associations. And, according to 2007 data (the latest available), <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/doe/general/RecyclingAndWasteMgmt_PDFs/WasteAndDiversionStudy/WasteCharacterizationReport.pdf">these units account for more than a third of the solid waste collected from the residential sector.</a></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><a name="enforcement"></a>No enforcement</span></p><p>A key reason why many building owners appear not to have complied with the Burke-Hansen ordinance is that the city rarely enforces it. Records provided by Chicago&rsquo;s office of Business Affairs &amp; Consumer Protection and the Department of Administrative Hearings show that, since 2010, the city issued just 109 citations for not recycling in commercial or residential establishments.</p><p>Why the lax enforcement? Burke-Hansen authorizes fines, but it doesn&rsquo;t compel the city to actually issue them.</p><p>&ldquo;Everything is a &lsquo;can&rsquo; and a &lsquo;may,&rsquo; and [the ordinance] has the authority but it doesn&#39;t say &lsquo;you must,&rsquo;&rdquo; says Helen Shiller, who represented the city&rsquo;s 46th Ward from 1987 until 2011. &ldquo;The issue with private haulers is that it&#39;s been left entirely to the market. To the extent that there&#39;s been people demanding more [recycling], that&#39;s pushed it along some. To the extent that there&#39;s more economic viability, it&#39;s increased. But the city has not changed its language to require anything.&rdquo;</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/shiller%20quote.png" style="height: 100px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p>Shiller says for condominiums and townhouses, it&rsquo;s a slightly different story. There was a rebate program in place for any condo association that presented the city with an affidavit declaring the building had recycling. <a href="http://committeeonfinance.org/condo/index.asp">It&#39;s currently being phased out</a>, and payments were typically delayed by as many as five years, but Shiller says that program once served as a &ldquo;carrot&rdquo; to complement Burke-Hansen&rsquo;s seldom-used &ldquo;stick&rdquo; of warnings and fines.</p><p>For apartment buildings, however, the regulatory environment is simpler. The city doesn&rsquo;t tax recycling pick-up like it does trash, but apartment building owners never benefitted from an incentive program like condos used to.</p><p>&ldquo;In this case there seems to be neither a carrot nor a stick,&rdquo; says Carter O&rsquo;Brien, the vice president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, a volunteer advocacy group. The Coalition has been working with (and sometimes against) the city since the early 1990s to improve recycling rates in the Chicago area.</p><p>In some ways, O&rsquo;Brien says, the city&rsquo;s past efforts at recycling still haunt present-day operations. The first citywide recycling effort began in 1995, when Chicagoans were asked to buy special blue, plastic bags at the grocery store in which they&rsquo;d put their recycling before throwing the bag in the trash. Recyclables were supposed to get sifted out at sorting facilities after that, but little of it did. The city canned the program in 2008.</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/FLICKR%20jenn%20brandle%20blue%20bags.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="The first citywide recycling program debuted in 1995, and required residents to throw their recycling in special blue, plastic bags before throwing the bags in the trash. (Flickr/Jennifer Brandel)" /></div><p>&ldquo;The blue bag was just such a catastrophe. It really set Chicago back quite a bit, because even people that did it religiously kind of suspected deep down that maybe it wasn&#39;t working so well,&rdquo; says O&rsquo;Brien. &ldquo;And for people that were kind of on the fence, they basically said, &#39;This is obviously not working. I see my blue bags go in a truck, I see them rip open, and this is a scam, a con and a joke, and I&rsquo;m not going to think about recycling ever again.&#39;&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Money in the trash</span></p><p>The irony for owners of multi-unit residential buildings is that recycling can be easy to implement. Sometimes it even saves building owners money.</p><p>Gordon Magill is president of Family Properties, a company his great grandfather started more than a century ago. Family Properties now owns 15 multi-unit buildings on the city&rsquo;s North Side and in the suburbs. Magill still has hundreds of blue bags stashed in a cupboard in his Edgewater office. He&rsquo;s an avid recycler &mdash; he picked up a few soda cans off the sidewalk on our way to the dumpsters behind one of his buildings &mdash; but said the Blue Bag program was doomed from the start. Undeterred by its failure, however, Magill reached out to the company that hauls waste from his buildings and set up a recycling program.</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/magill1%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" title="Gordon Magill is president of Family Properties in Chicago. He says recycling is a net-positive for him financially. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div><p>&ldquo;When the blue bag program ended, basically we weren&#39;t shocked. Let&#39;s just start with that,&rdquo; Magill says. &ldquo;We just picked up the phone, called up our salesperson for our scavenging service and asked them to put in the bins. It was as simple as that.&rdquo;</p><p>Magill says recycling is either a low-cost addition or a net positive for him financially, as he doesn&rsquo;t have to pay as often to empty his building&rsquo;s more expensive trash bins. He also cites recycling&rsquo;s &ldquo;commercial appeal to environmentally conscientious residents.&rdquo; In other words: His tenants want it.</p><p>Not all landlords are so zealous. Jim Thom, who owns a 14-unit building in Avondale, says he&rsquo;d like to offer recycling to his tenants but can&rsquo;t figure out how to make it work. His dumpster sits in a narrow gangway that runs all the way to the alley, leaving little room for another bin; the trash bin already pinches circulation between the stairwell and the building&rsquo;s laundry room.</p><p>And, Thom says, when he looked into recycling, he found it could bump up his waste pick-up costs as much as 33 percent, from $3,000 to $4,000 a year.</p><p>&ldquo;It&#39;s certainly something we think about,&rdquo; says Thom. &ldquo;We just haven&#39;t seen a solution that&#39;s made us jump and say, &#39;Let&#39;s do it.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>He says he&rsquo;s never been fined by the city for not providing recycling, and hasn&rsquo;t heard of any building owners or managers who have.</p><p>Josh Connell, a managing partner with Lakeshore Recycling Systems, says there are times when recycling just doesn&rsquo;t make sense.</p><p>&ldquo;Those are the small buildings &mdash; your six-unit, 10-unit, even up to 25-unit buildings depending on the logistics and the space &mdash; it&#39;s difficult to recycle,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Multi-unit residential buildings are a little less than half of Lakeshore&rsquo;s business, Connell says, and he estimates four out of five of them order recycling along with trash pick-up. Larger buildings enjoy an economy of scale that can make recycling revenue-neutral, or even a net positive. But even though waste hauling is typically a minor item on a building owner&rsquo;s balance sheet, any extra expense has to be justified.</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/connell%20quote.png" title="" /></div><p>&ldquo;If it&#39;s gonna cost money to recycle and the residents of these buildings aren&#39;t pushing for it, most building owners are not going to spend more money when people aren&#39;t clamoring for it,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We have building owners that do pay for recycling because the residents want it.&rdquo;</p><p>As evinced by the popularity of MyBuildingDoesntRecycle.com, a lot of multi-unit building residents want it.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The trash is always greener on the other side</span></p><p>Recycling rates have been on the rise both nationally and in Chicago, and waste haulers like Connell say interest in their business is rising, even as the falling price of oil undercuts plastic recyclers&rsquo; bottom line. But is a more environmentally conscious public all it takes to forge a sterling recycling program?</p><p>Probably not. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and even New York City come up often in discussions of successful recycling programs. In 2012 <a href="http://sfmayor.org/index.aspx?recordid=113&amp;page=846" target="_blank">San Francisco announced it had achieved 80 percent landfill diversion</a>, well on its way to a goal of &ldquo;zero waste&rdquo; by 2020. It even has curbside composting to collect food waste and other organic material alongside bins for trash and recycling. San Francisco&rsquo;s success is due to several factors &mdash; including a culture of conservation and clear, rigorously enforced regulations. But a simple number holds it all together: $151.47.</p><p><a href="http://www.recologysf.com/index.php/for-homes/transfer-station-residential">That&#39;s how much it costs</a> to dump one ton of waste in a landfill in the Bay Area. Figures are nearly as high on much of the West Coast. That number in Chicago is just $46, according to the city&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation. In New York and along the East Coast it&rsquo;s somewhere between the two, around $100 per ton.</p><p>Connell says we should consider the dumping costs that are eventually passed onto building owners.</p><p>&ldquo;If they&#39;re paying twice as much to get rid of garbage, adding recycling could be an immediate positive impact on their bottom line,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Still, Connell says he sees a lot more Chicago landlords coming around to recycling these days, in part because their tenants are starting to demand it. And if more buildings set up recycling, the cost borne by each one could fall, as waste haulers compete for business and are able to travel fewer empty miles between each pick-up.</p><p>The societal benefits of cutting down on trash are myriad: Chicago trucks bound for the nearest landfill typically end up in Rockford or downstate Indiana, belching greenhouse gases all the way there and even <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/when-chicago-area-traffic-worst-111374">helping clog up already congested roads</a>.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;I give it a C&rsquo;</span></p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s poor reputation for recycling is no secret, even to those currently in charge of administering it. Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of City Council&rsquo;s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, calls the current program &ldquo;a work in progress.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&#39;re nowhere near the level that we should be. I give it a C right now,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We need to get better at it. We need to enforce better. And we need to educate a lot of constituents in the outer wards of the city.&rdquo;</p><p>He says he&rsquo;s wary of alienating landlords and businesses, but concedes that the owners of multi-unit residential buildings and small businesses have had more than 20 years to institute recycling since the Burke-Hansen ordinance passed.</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/cardenas.png" title="" /></div><p>&ldquo;I think we&#39;ve come full circle. We&rsquo;ve obviously given them ample time, and so I&#39;m at the point where I want to take more draconian efforts to make sure everyone&#39;s fully in compliance,&rdquo; Cardenas says. He can&rsquo;t point to any measure currently on the agenda for his committee or others in the City Council, but his assessment of the situation is blunt: &ldquo;The buildings are there. They should be doing it. Go check them, give them a citation, come into compliance. It&#39;s really that simple.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">How big is this blind spot in Chicago&rsquo;s recycling program? According to DSS data, smaller residential buildings recycle just over 11 percent of their waste. On paper, things appear better when it comes to larger buildings: <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NQ1JsVu4Ob_iYxKQJTYsw_oBW6pAspJpyah3uwL4yrw/pubhtml?gid=0&amp;single=true" target="_blank">Figures reported bi-annually to the city by private waste haulers </a>suggest that buildings the city is not responsible for recycled 38.7 percent of their waste. But, there&rsquo;s a problem with that comparison, since the private haulers serve industrial and commercial clients as well as large, multi-unit residential buildings. DSS has no data that separates out recycling for multi-unit residential buildings</p><p>In other words, we don&rsquo;t know if the situation our question-asker Quetzalli Castro asked about is getting better at all. And absent any plans to enforce the ordinance, she may be stuck in that situation, at the whim of her landlord.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/question%20asker%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 480px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Quetzalli Castro, our question-asker. " /><span style="font-size:22px;">Quetzalli Castro, Curious Citizen</span></p><p>Quetzalli Castro, 26, is a determined recycler &mdash; she&rsquo;s already doing it even though her building manager doesn&rsquo;t provide the service. She says that impulse started young and hasn&rsquo;t dwindled, even if her options have.</p><p>&ldquo;I&#39;ll admit to being sort of a judgey person and saying, &lsquo;Oh you don&#39;t recycle?&rsquo; and [people] say &lsquo;Well we used to back where I came from, but here in Chicago my apartment building doesn&#39;t offer it so I don&#39;t do it anymore.&rsquo; For me it&#39;s been a struggle, since I&#39;ve always had that habit and I don&#39;t want to lose that recycling habit.&rdquo;</p><p>A longtime Logan Square resident, Castro grew up in a two-flat on Kedzie boulevard and now lives in a multi-unit apartment building nearby. She was born in Mexico City, but moved to Chicago when she was just one year old.</p><p>Right now Castro is a graduate student at the University of Chicago in their Urban Teacher Education Program, pursuing a two-year degree focused on education in Chicago.</p><p>Castro is dismayed by the lack of recycling among many multi-unit apartment buildings. And she says learning about the city&rsquo;s lack of enforcement adds another dimension to neighborhood development.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that&#39;s pretty surprising, especially now that there&#39;s a lot of reconstruction in Logan Square and lots of other areas that are being gentrified. There&#39;s bigger buildings going up. And that&#39;s kind of concerning because we&#39;re losing affordable housing, but also recycling, too,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I know there are plenty of people who wish to recycle, but don&#39;t or really can&#39;t because they don&#39;t have a blue bin offered to them. And I find that really sad.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley is a freelance journalist</a> and reporter for Curious City. Follow him at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank"> @Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Apr 2015 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-apartments-are-blind-spot-chicagos-recycling-program-111883 CPS tries composting pilot program http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-tries-composting-pilot-program-110277 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/compost.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Still not sure why you should compost your food waste? Just ask a second grader at Blaine Elementary School in Lakeview.</p><p>&ldquo;Because the other food that you throw away that you think you can&rsquo;t compost, has to go to a landfill and that&rsquo;s not good,&rdquo; says 2nd grader Chloe. &ldquo;It makes all these gases that are really bad.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;After we compost this, we take it to this big composting station (and) it will go into this special microwave and then it will turn into this rich soil so we can put it in some places in the environment,&rdquo; adds her classmate Harrison.</p><p>These second graders are pretty much right--except about the microwave part. They learned this as part of an 8-week pilot program that&rsquo;s got Blaine students collecting their lunch scraps every Friday this spring and sending them off to a commercial composter.</p><p>Partners in the program include the Chicago Community Trust, Loyola University, Seven Generations Ahead and Blaine parents. The final partner is CPS&rsquo;s office of sustainability.</p><p>This was surprising, since less than a month ago -- in response to a Freedom of Information Act request -- the district told WBEZ that it neither &ldquo;performs waste audits, nor knows of any schools that do.&rdquo;</p><p>But today, the district acknowledges that there have actually been many such assessments in the district.</p><p>Blaine did theirs before starting the pilot and, according to parent Adam Brent, found huge potential for diverting trash from the landfill. .</p><p>&ldquo;We came up with about an 88 percent diversion of total waste stream that would not go to the landfill &nbsp;if we separated out the food waste and the liquids,&rdquo; Brent explained.</p><p>These numbers match up closely with those from audits across the city that show that roughly half of all milk is discarded while 25 to 30 percent of all food on the tray. One recent Harvard study indicates that 60 to 75 percent of all vegetables served in schools also end up in the trash.</p><p>CPS says it&rsquo;s aware of the problem and encouraging schools to come up with creative solutions. Among these are dozens of on-site composting programs that have sprouted up all over the past decade.</p><p>Jen Nelson has been working on the issue for five years as Seven Generations&rsquo; Zero Waste Program Manager. She calls on-site composting program a good first step, but notes it can only really tackle fruits and vegetables.</p><p>&ldquo;But when you can look at opportunities for commercial composting you can all of the sudden get to the meat and dairy and bones and much larger volume of that food waste,&rdquo; Nelson said.</p><p>For instance, the day we visited Blaine, compost bins were full of half-eaten pizza that would&rsquo;ve otherwise ended up in the landfill. &nbsp;</p><p>Still, the 45 pounds of scraps that Blaine collects each week represent a drop in the bucket. The project&rsquo;s primary goal is to figure out how to expand commercial school composting in Illinois, a state where it&rsquo;s still much cheaper to send scraps to the landfill.</p><p>But if Nelson has her way, that won&rsquo;t be the case for long. She serves on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition aimed at making composting as attractive in Illinois as it is in states like California. And she says that getting groups like CPS on board, could be key.</p><p>&ldquo;I spoke to a gentleman who owns a compost facility out of state and his comment to me was &lsquo;wow, if Chicago Public Schools were doing commercial composting I would site a facility near Chicago as quickly as I could because it would be worth it. I could make money from that&rsquo;.&rdquo;</p><p>If and when all of the pieces fall into place, Nelson estimates that the district could divert more than 13,000 tons of its CPS cafeteria waste from the landfill each year. &nbsp;</p><p>But the physical matter of waste reduction is just part of the story. This spring, Nelson trained dozens of teachers in a new &ldquo;zero waste&rdquo; curriculum (in alignment with Common Core) that will roll out to CPS classrooms in the fall.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been having a lot of fun training teachers and giving them really cool hands-on activities like making a model landfill and model compost in a two liter bottle,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;The students can build it and observe the differences between the two systems and see why things can biodegrade in one and not in the other. It&rsquo;s an exciting opportunity to help teachers really bring it into the classroom.&rdquo;</p><p>Finally, Nelson says an even broader goal is to plant the seeds for a new healthy crop of what she calls &ldquo;zero waste ambassadors.&rdquo;</p><p>And from the words of the precocious second graders at Blaine, it sounds like this crop is well on its way to taking root.</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">&nbsp;<em>@monicaeng</em></a>&nbsp;<em>or write to her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Wed, 04 Jun 2014 10:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-tries-composting-pilot-program-110277 EcoMyths: Paper or plastic? The answer may be 'neither' http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-paper-or-plastic-answer-may-be-neither-110251 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/ecomyths-plastic paper.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Chicago&#39;s new plastic bag restriction represents an effort to green up the city, but does it imply that paper is the eco-friendly choice? Northwestern University&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.mech.northwestern.edu/people/faculty/profiles/masanet-eric.html">Eric Masanet</a> joins Kate Sackman from <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/05/myth-paper-bags-are-greener-than-plastic/">EcoMyths Alliance</a> to discuss the environmental effects of both paper and plastic single-use bags.</p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-64ee338f-4856-4acf-e34a-1f88e793c45a"><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/151549171&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></span></p><p><strong>The Myth</strong></p><p>In his introduction to sustainable engineering classes at Northwestern University, professor Eric Masanet likes to set the tone for the semester by posing the once ubiquitous checkout question: &quot;Paper or plastic?&quot; For many of his eager young students, the answer seems obvious&mdash;paper breaks down fast in the environment, is easy to recycle, and comes from trees. Meanwhile, plastic is notorious for building up indefinitely in the environment, harming aquatic ecosystems and clogging drains, and is made from fossil fuel. With all that in mind, it&#39;s easy to conclude that paper bags are the eco-winner.</p><p><strong>The Facts</strong></p><p>But life cycle analysis (LCA)&mdash;i.e., measuring an item&#39;s cradle-to-grave impact&mdash;reveals a more complex picture. In terms of single use bags, &quot;the science shows that moving from plastic to paper is not necessarily &#39;greener,&#39;&quot; says Masanet. In a nutshell, here are the key categories he says are part of determining the environmental footprint of any bag:</p><ul><li><em>Production</em>: For both plastic and paper, processing raw materials and manufacturing the final product causes pollution and requires energy and water. The numbers are too complex to get into here, but the UK&#39;s Environment Agency&#39;s<a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291023/scho0711buan-e-e.pdf"> life cycle analysis</a> determined that the impact of paper production on human health and eco-toxicity is &quot;significantly worse&quot; than plastic&#39;s.</li><li><em>Distribution</em>: Simply put, because a paper bag is five to seven times heavier than a plastic bag, transporting paper bags requires more resources to move it from point A to B. With more trucks, you burn more fuel, and you get more greenhouse gas emissions.</li><li><em>End of life</em>: Paper definitely scores points for being easily recycled, or, if trashed, breaking down quickly. But worth noting, too, is that UK LCA&#39;s estimate that 76 percent of plastic shopping bags are reused at least once, which can help reduce the purchase of new trash bags and pet waste bags.</li></ul><p>Does biodegradability trump reuse? Does harming aquatic life outweigh distribution-related air pollution? Masanet cautions us from calling a winner, because there are so many variables involved&hellip;which is why, when he learned of the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-aldermen-crack-down-plastic-bags-pedicabs-110113">City of Chicago&#39;s new bill</a> to restrict plastic bags, he worried it might have the unintended consequence of making paper the de facto eco-hero in this story.</p><p><strong>One Green Thing</strong></p><p>So, what&#39;s a planet-appreciating person to do? You probably know the answer: <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/OGT-BYOB.png">BYOB</a>. In terms of legislation, perhaps Chicago can take a cue from cities like <a href="http://bringitaustin.com/ordinance">Austin</a>, TX, which banned businesses from providing single-use bags of any kind, but instead recommends reusables.</p><p>Compared with both paper and plastic single-use bags, reusable bags are &quot;an environmental slam dunk&mdash;if you reuse them,&quot; says Masanet. If you need to buy a bag, opt for <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/05/ready-to-buy-reusable-bags-for-the-win/">durable recycled plastic options</a> over cotton, unless you plan to reuse the cotton bags hundreds of times.</p><p>To learn more, check out the <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/05/myth-paper-bags-are-greener-than-plastic/">cartoon and full myth</a> at EcoMyths.</p></p> Tue, 27 May 2014 09:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-paper-or-plastic-answer-may-be-neither-110251 EcoMyths: Rinsing before recycling? http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-rinsing-recycling-109244 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/ecomyths recycling.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong><u>To Rinse or Not To Rinse: A Recycling Mystery Solved</u></strong></p><p>At EcoMyths, people ask us all the time about recycling. One of the most frequently asked questions is &ldquo;Do you need to rinse all containers before tossing them into the recycling bin?&rdquo; That&rsquo;s a great question and have often wondered that ourselves. To explore this issue on our <strong>EcoMyths</strong> segment on <em>Worldview</em>, Jerome McDonnell and I talked with engineering professor and researcher <a href="http://www.mccormick.northwestern.edu/directory/profiles/Eric-Masanet.html">Eric Masanet, PhD</a>, of Northwestern University.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/117664526" width="100%"></iframe>The good news is that more than half of Americans, 58%, say they recycle on a regular basis. Of the 4.5 lbs. of waste that we produce on average per person, each day, we recycle about one-third of it, according to the EPA. Not too shabby, considering how much of all that recycling reduces the amount of garbage going into landfills.</p><p>Most recycling programs in the U.S. co-mingle glass, plastic, aluminum and other recyclables into one bin. Then they are processed together in a single stream at the recycling plant. So Eric advises that most containers be emptied and rinsed out before you toss them into the bin. Yogurt still in the container? Rinse it first. Peanut butter still in the jar? Scoop out what is left, then rinse, before recycling. Why so serious? Because according to Waste Management, the company that collects half of all the curbside recycling in the U.S., a single dirty container can contaminate thousands of pounds of recyclables.</p><p><strong><u>Water you talkin&rsquo; about?</u></strong></p><p>We asked Eric if the extra water used to rinse out the containers would negate the environmental benefits of the recycling itself. He said that even with the water used both at home and at the recycling plant, there are significant water savings compared to what would be used to manufacture new containers from scratch.</p><p>Not only that, the environmental benefits of recycling go well beyond water savings, Eric says. Over the life of a product there are also significant energy savings. For instance, if your peanut butter container is recycled into plastic lumber, energy is saved because the upfront impact of extracting the oil or gas used to manufacture the plastic has been eliminated. In addition, no live trees need to be harvested to create the artificial lumber.</p><p>As a professor of materials and manufacturing that focuses on product life-cycle systems, Eric has much experience researching the economic and resource impacts that occur in manufactured products. A <em>life cycle analysis </em>starts from the time a raw material is mined, drilled, or harvested to the manufacturing and use of the product and until it is disposed of or recycled. Eric points out that when we recycle and re-purpose materials &ldquo;we cut the loop short&rdquo; of the lifecycle of a product, creating significant environmental benefits, not to mention the money that is saved.</p><p>That said, the rules regarding whether you need to rinse out your containers actually vary from city to city. It depends on who collects your recyclables and the capabilities of the facility where those items are recycled. Eric advised us to check on the regulations that apply to your city or town by going to <a href="http://www.Earth911.com">www.Earth911.com</a>.</p><p>I think that not only is Eric incredibly smart, but he makes it really easy to understand the environmental and economic impact of recycling.</p><p>To learn more about this myth, listen to the podcast of today&rsquo;s show or go to the <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/">EcoMyths Alliance website</a> to read more about <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2013/10/myth-you-must-rinse-all-containers-before-recycling-them/">how to rinse your recyclables. </a></p></p> Tue, 29 Oct 2013 09:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-rinsing-recycling-109244 Reporter’s Notebook: What are aldermen responsible for? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/reporter%E2%80%99s-notebook-what-are-aldermen-responsible-107344 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/5303796081_ce192df642_z.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="650" src="http://embed.verite.co/timeline/?source=0Am-AbC8HDbXMdDNPdTUxMTJWM0FaakxUdUdqWlVOc3c&amp;font=PTSerif-PTSans&amp;maptype=toner&amp;lang=en&amp;width=620&amp;height=650" width="620"></iframe></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/about-curious-city-98756">Curious City</a> is a news-gathering experiment designed to satisfy the public&#39;s curiosity. People <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/ask">submit questions</a>, <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/ask">vote </a>for their favorites, and WBEZ reports out the winning questions in real time on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/curiouscityproject">Facebook</a>, <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/WBEZCuriousCity">Twitter </a>and the timeline above.</p><p dir="ltr">Curious Citizen Andrea Lee of Chicago&rsquo;s Noble Square neighborhood reached out to her alderman about two problems: a lack of a recycling bin and basement flooding. No dice with either problem. Given an alderman&rsquo;s vague job description, Lee wanted to know what aldermen actually can do.</p><p dir="ltr">Have you contacted your alderman or local politician about anything lately? If so, did City Hall help? And, what should local politicians be responsible for, anyway?</p><p dir="ltr">If you have leads or a point for us to consider, please comment below, or hit us at any of the social media outlets listed above!</p></p> Thu, 23 May 2013 16:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/reporter%E2%80%99s-notebook-what-are-aldermen-responsible-107344 Q&A: Recycling industry CEO Sharon Kneiss talks blue bins, and why zero-waste really isn't http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/qa-recycling-industry-ceo-sharon-kneiss-talks-blue-bins-and-why-zero <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/abmarfia/490005923/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/recycling-bin-beach-by-Andy-Marfia_0.jpg" title="(Flickr/Andy Marfia)" /></a></p><p>At a time when environmentalism is as much about high-tech innovation and industrial economies of scale as it is about conservation, recycling seems almost quaint. But what is one of the world&#39;s most widely adopted environmental programs has made considerable strides since it began in earnest during the 1960s. &nbsp;Sharon H. Kneiss is&nbsp;the president and CEO of the&nbsp;Environmental Industry Associations, the trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling services industry.</p><p><em><strong>Chris Bentley</strong></em><strong>: Recycling rates are increasing, but citywide recycling still isn&rsquo;t a reality in Chicago, the nation&rsquo;s third largest city. Meanwhile it&rsquo;s mandatory elsewhere, as in San Francisco, where they also have curbside composting. Are municipally organized systems doomed to be a patchwork of programs, some of which work and some of which don&rsquo;t?</strong></p><p><em>Sharon Kneiss</em>:&nbsp;Recycling has been developed at the municipal level, but we&rsquo;ve learned a lot about the tools that they have to promote it. Accessibility is very important. We&rsquo;ve seen a jump in the amount of municipal solid waste that was recycled when we switched from the little blue bin to the 95-gallon bin. Education is also very important. When you educate you can really encourage people who have access to recycling to participate.</p><p><strong>What happened in 1985? The total municipal solid waste recycling rate nearly doubled that year.</strong></p><p>In the 80s there was a big jump in recycling because there was concern over landfill space. There was another big jump between 1990 and 1995, because that&rsquo;s when a number of big groups started to adopt recycling programs. Another significant improvement has happened in the last 10 years. We&rsquo;ve gone from recycling programs in about 500 communities to about 10,000 communities. It means that there is accessibility for between 58 and 74 percent of the population.</p><p><strong>Is municipal waste recycling a good proposition for cities, fiscally speaking?</strong></p><p>Recycling has become a culture in this country. It&rsquo;s really important that you have the markets developed for recycling. Part of the enterprise is to make sure you have a market for the commodities you end up with from recycling: paper, corrugated container board, plastics &mdash; some plastics become fleece fabrics, some become part of composite wood, other plastics &mdash;&nbsp;paint, aluminum. Recycled aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy it would take to make a new product.</p><p><strong>What percentage of recycled goods are actually landfilled?</strong></p><p>There have been tremendous improvements in the amount that has been recycled. The vast majority of it is recycled. The technology has advanced to a mind-boggling degree. Curbside, single-stream recycling where you can put all your recyclables in one bin and it&rsquo;s recycled at a single facility. Almost two-thirds of the population has access to single-stream recycling.</p><p>Optical scanners can read recyclables on the line and pick out certain plastics based on its optics. Stereo vision scanners can pick out certain trash based on its shape. The Eddy Current uses magnets to pull away aluminum. If you like mechanics, visiting these facilities is like being a kid in a candy store.</p><p><strong>What is a &ldquo;dirty MRF&rdquo; and what impact do such projects have?</strong></p><p>A &ldquo;dirty MRF&rdquo; is where they mix all of the waste with recyclables. There&rsquo;s some concern about contamination of the recyclables when you&rsquo;re mixing it with municipal solid waste &mdash;&nbsp;there&rsquo;s only one bin and it all gets sorted after that. I think it&rsquo;s a greater challenge in terms of separation.<img alt="Sharon H. Kneiss, CEO of Environmental Industry Associations" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Head-Shot--Sharon-Kneiss-305px.jpg" style="float: right; height: 324px; width: 180px;" title="(Courtesy Environmental Industry Associations)" /></p><p><strong>Paper/paperboard waste was nearly three times more abundant by weight than the next most prevalent material (tie: yard trimmings and food scraps), but since 2000 it has started to crash. But isn&rsquo;t that positive movement masking an uptick in e-waste?</strong></p><p>This is really a cultural change, on the paper side. This is what we call the &ldquo;evolving ton.&rdquo; Recyclables are changing. We&rsquo;re seeing less packaging, smaller containers; less glass, more plastic; we are seeing a changing composition.</p><p>On the electronics side, there is a growing cadre of recyclers who recover a lot of the precious metal of electronics.</p><p><strong>Shouldn&rsquo;t it be mandatory for more items, given the education issues and public health issues in some cases?</strong></p><p>Part of it is educating people. We&rsquo;ve learned even $1 per household spent on education gets a large return. Some places, like San Francisco, have a recycling requirement and there has been an impact. You need to accompany that with strong education so people understand what goes in and the importance of recycling.</p><p><strong>Illinois is one of eight states to cover at least three products with an Extended Producer Responsibility Law (EPR). What impact could these programs have and how likely are they to advance?</strong></p><p>One of the most effective programs, in Maryland, is not a requirement &mdash;&nbsp;a utility in Maryland has an aggressive program. But in terms of these laws, we don&rsquo;t know how effective they are. We would urge states considering these laws to look at the whole picture. They need to look at the life cycle, and ensure that they don&rsquo;t disrupt recycling markets already in place.</p><p><strong>Is zero-waste an attainable goal? How can it ever be economically feasible? What does it mean to aim for zero- or low-waste, exactly?</strong></p><p>Zero waste doesn&rsquo;t mean none. Unless you repeal the laws of physics there will be something left. The definition is really somewhat fuzzy. There&rsquo;s no established and accepted definition of what zero waste is. A lot of companies institute these programs because of the potential cost savings &mdash; Subaru, Walmart, Coca-Cola &mdash; it&rsquo;s smart capitalism. It&rsquo;s reducing waste to the degree that is economically feasible.</p><p><strong>You note that the recycling supply chain has become more environmentally sustainable &mdash; fleets use alternative fuels, mechanized sorting and screening are more efficient &mdash; but is the life-cycle analysis still worth it in terms of greenhouse gas emissions?</strong></p><p>The waste management industry is leading the way in natural gas-powered cars. We capture a lot of that gas from landfills. The savings is tremendous. Right now we have between 4-5,000 such vehicles on the road. Almost half of the newly produced trucks for the fleet run on natural gas. Of course there&rsquo;s an infrastructure cost around that, but many have put in natural gas refueling stations.</p><p><strong>Do you think recycling is popular because it represents a no-cost, out-of-sight way for consumers to feel like they&rsquo;ve had an impact, when in reality they may be consuming too much in the first place? Shouldn&rsquo;t the focus be on reducing consumption or at least reusing goods?</strong></p><p>Some experts have called recycling the most effective environmental program in the world &mdash; it&rsquo;s the most widely accepted program, because it&rsquo;s become easy for people to do. We still have a ways to go, but it&rsquo;s now accessible to 10,000 neighborhoods. There has been a focus on reducing packaging upfront. We are seeing those opportunities.</p><p>The area where they&rsquo;re really starting to look at reductions is food waste. Organics is the next frontier in recycling. They&rsquo;re also much harder because there are a lot of liquids and what we call &ldquo;putrescibles.&rdquo; Many retailers are looking at ways to reduce that by donating perishable goods before their expiration dates.</p><p><strong>Even with all the improvements we&rsquo;ve discussed today, how big of a role does recycling play in a sustainable industrial society? Describe your ideal view of the industry as your children will know it.</strong></p><p>It&rsquo;s probably beyond my imagination. The advancements in recycling have moved forward at an amazing speed. When I visited a facility recently, the manger said he had to update his equipment once a year, but if he really wanted to keep up he could probably change it once a month. The technology is allowing a lot more to be recycled a lot faster.</p><p>That doesn&rsquo;t mean we don&rsquo;t have a long way to go. Commercial and demolition debris is improving, and we&rsquo;re finding new markets. You can&rsquo;t just collect products for recycling &mdash;&nbsp;you have to have a market the product can go to. For organic waste, we&rsquo;re looking at processing that into methane and other gases. There&rsquo;s a lot of exciting potential opportunities.</p><p>One thing I was fascinated by when I first came to this industry is that companies don&rsquo;t look at waste as trash. They look at it as a raw material to extract value from.</p><p><strong>Any takeaway lessons for the near-term?</strong></p><p>Single stream has been the key to expanding recycling. &nbsp;Privatization, quite frankly, has really helped. It has developed large, regional facilities quite quickly in a way that generally governments don&rsquo;t do. It has also lowered costs. Advancements in truck technology has made collection more efficient and safer.</p><p>The waste industry is an industry in transition. Since 2000 all of the increase in waste has been matched by an increase in recycling. That doesn&rsquo;t mean challenges don&rsquo;t remain in the collection and the economics &mdash;&nbsp;we still need recycling at multi-family housing, and price volatility impacts the economics.</p></p> Thu, 28 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/qa-recycling-industry-ceo-sharon-kneiss-talks-blue-bins-and-why-zero Chicago begins new push for blue cart recycling http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-begins-new-push-blue-cart-recycling-105645 <p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel&#39;s office announced Wednesday that more than 131,000 Chicago households will get blue cart recycling services in March and April.</p><p>&quot;The blue cart recycling program will provide bi-weekly recycling collection services to residents who live in single family homes, two-, three- and four-flat buildings,&quot; a statement said.</p><p>The expansion will include 340,000 households and is scheduled to be complete by the fall of 2013. Currently, city officials say 260,000 households receive blue cart recycling service.</p><p>(Map: The Mayor&#39;s Office confirmed that areas not pegged for new rollouts will be under future consideration and planning.)</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/BlueCartKey.jpg" title="" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="750" scrolling="no" src="https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&amp;q=select+col2+from+19GapdtYoZ32gyu-Hn5cPj5gIwhX7AshICJ2dgfQ&amp;h=false&amp;lat=41.84008383218665&amp;lng=-87.70479297363282&amp;z=11&amp;t=1&amp;l=col2&amp;y=2&amp;tmplt=2" width="620"></iframe></p><p>&nbsp;</p><div>The city said to ensure a smooth transition during the expansion, each of the six city service areas will undergo a gradual expansion of households receiving new recycling services. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The city said subsequent phases will be announced as collection schedules and routes are finalized.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;The Department of Streets and Sanitation and its partners are expanding our service areas in phases to ensure a seamless transition with effective operations and to make certain that current recycling services are not impacted,&rdquo; said Charles Williams, commissioner of the Department of Streets and Sanitation.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We will continue to use the same rollout method throughout the year as we expand recycling throughout the city.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 20 Feb 2013 17:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-begins-new-push-blue-cart-recycling-105645 E-waste is a big problem, and a boon for some Illinois businesses http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/e-waste-big-problem-and-boon-some-illinois-businesses-105134 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mambol/6487023983/"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/6487023983_f7b4e8ebaf_b.jpg" style="height: 445px; width: 610px;" title="E-waste does not go in the blue bins reserved for most recyclable goods. (Courtesy Jobet Palmaira)" /></a></p><p>We throw out <a href="http://www.agreenerrefill.com/The-Benefits-of-Recycling">nearly 1 million</a> printer cartridges every day &mdash; a figure emblematic of the global problem known as e-waste, or sending electronic equipment to landfills. Much of this trash <a href="http://www.economist.com/news/international/21570678-growing-mounds-electronic-scrap-can-mean-profits-or-scandals-cadmium-lining">ends up in poor countries</a>, where its poisonous materials can cause public health hazards.</p><p>An international treaty meant to stop this dumping was signed in 1989, but there is still no national law governing e-waste in the U.S. Instead <a href="http://www.ecycleclearinghouse.org/content.aspx?pageid=10">24 states have stepped in</a> with their own measures.</p><p>In 2008 Illinois passed its own <a href="http://ilga.gov/legislation/96/HB/PDF/09600HB4636lv.pdf">electronics recycling law</a> that banned residents from landfilling products including TVs, computers and printers. The law <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/provdrs/streets_san/news/2011/dec/state_of_illinoisbanone-wastedisposalcomingjan1st.html">went into effect</a> at the start of 2012, and it appears to have worked &mdash;&nbsp;in 2012 electronic recycling rates <a href="http://www.pantagraph.com/news/local/huge-increase-in-amount-of-electronics-being-recycled-in/article_40515c1c-5ab2-11e2-a0a5-001a4bcf887a.html">soared 50 percent</a> in Normal, Ill., for example. While Illinois&rsquo; Environmental Protection Agency is still collecting data from recyclers and manufacturers statewide, a representative for the agency said they anticipate an uptick.</p><p>That&rsquo;s in part because, under the state&rsquo;s new law, anyone selling electronic products has to meet recycling goals, which went up significantly in 2012. But even without that regulatory stick, recycling and reuse can offer compelling carrots for a company looking to make a buck.</p><p>Sims Recycling Solutions, based in West Chicago, offsets 300,000 tons of carbon annually &mdash; that&rsquo;s a net reduction, after subtracting out the company&rsquo;s own operational emissions from shipping, industrial processes and the like. They use every part of the animal, so to speak, recycling 300 million pounds of electronics each year.</p><p>&ldquo;The barriers to entry in this business are low, so there have been a lot of companies that come and go,&rdquo; Sims&rsquo; Sean Magann said, &ldquo;but we&rsquo;ve seen a steady increase in business from Chicago over the years.&rdquo;</p><p>Another company that has cashed in on waste reduction is Evolve Recycling, a subsidiary of Hoffman Estates-based Clover Technologies Group. Clover is the world&rsquo;s largest remanufacturer of printer cartridges; they gather used cartridges, replace the worn out parts and pass along refurbished products for resale.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://evolverecycling.com/"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Evolve - Cartridges in Boxes.jpg" style="height: 406px; width: 610px;" title="Empty printer cartridges in the Evolve warehouse. (Courtesy Evolve Recycling)" /></a></div><p>Unlike Sims, Evolve collects secondhand cartridges directly from consumers. The company &rsquo;s new program pays end-user businesses up to <a href="http://www.evolverecycling.com/10-hot-cartridge-list.aspx">$10 per cartridge</a>, and provides shipping boxes with prepaid postage.</p><p>Instead of grinding the cartridges into pellets for recycling &mdash; as do many original equipment manufacturers, who also collect empty cartridges &mdash; Evolve climbs one step higher on the old mantra, &ldquo;reduce, reuse, recycle.&rdquo; In response to tanking profits, some printer companies are mounting efforts to snatch up the same post-consumer cartridges that Evolve depends on, sparking somewhat of a war over waste.</p><p>Although they&rsquo;re flipping more than 10,000 cartridges each month, Evolve sees room for explosive growth. Depending on cartridge type, remanufacturers currently hold anywhere from <a href="http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/includes/IITC.pdf">10 to 50 percent</a> of the market.</p><p>Even with their recycling efforts, the big printer companies can&rsquo;t offer products at the prices remanufacturers are targeting. So while remanufacturers lighten the load on landfills by about 38,000 tons of plastic and metal each year, they may also rest easier knowing they&rsquo;ve unburdened their bottom lines, too.</p></p> Fri, 25 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/e-waste-big-problem-and-boon-some-illinois-businesses-105134 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