The cover story in this week’s Chicago Reader is a long article entitled “Why Can’t Chicago Recycle?” Covering the myriad pickup and collection programs within the city, the article reveals troubling recycle rates:
Right now just 8 percent of the waste from the 600,000 homes with city garbage service is being recycled, according to a study commissioned by the city’s Department of Environment. The number is 19 percent for buildings with private service. Based on previous studies and the success of recycling programs in Seattle, the report concludes that the city could readily raise both figures above 40 percent by investing in infrastructure and educating the public. (San Francisco’s current goal, for comparison, is zero waste by 2020.)
“People are really frustrated,” says Mike Nowak, president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, an advocacy group. “We’ve got this multitiered system right now, so it’s no wonder people are confused. And it prevents the city from educating people about recycling because there are so many caveats.”
The confusion is not due to lack of effort or money spent on the city’s part over the past two decades, as the article explores at length (which you can read via the above link). With first a blue-bag collection program and then a blue-cart collection program, the city of Chicago has attempted to divert materials from landfills and into recycling streams. The successes, failures, and frustrations of these efforts are enough to fill a college-level course.
In the spring of 2011, Roosevelt University will debut SUST 240 Waste as an online seminar taught by Professor Carl Zimring. Zimring is an environmental historian whose book Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America explored two centuries of the history of recycling in the United States. He has also published on the problems (and some solutions) facing New York City’s recycling program in the past decade. The new course will use historical examples to provide perspective to how we create and manage our wastes as well as offering some alternatives to our current practices.