- Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) has reported that a 2017 pilot with The Recycling Partnership led to a 32% decrease in recycling contamination. Preliminary results show that 80% of the 4,400 target households had plastic wrap or bags in their carts prior to educational outreach, according to a city press release.
- Now, DSS hopes to build on that work with a citywide education campaign to boost the current 9% residential diversion rate. This will involve sending mailers to all 600,000 households asking residents to focus on recycling paper, aluminum and plastic, as reported by the Chicago Sun Times.
- DSS has also launched a new online schedule finder tool, working with Recycle By City, to help residents stay on top of their pick-up times. This site includes information on what items are accepted for recycling and other resources.
Chicago's yearslong recycling woes are well-known at this point, and the city has tried many things to fix them. This latest iteration of single-stream blue carts was launched by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration in 2013. The city has considered implementing a pay-as-you-throw system, which could affect residents' recycling behavior, but isn't ready to take that step yet.
In the meantime, high contamination and low participation are pervasive issues for the residential program. DSS has tried various tactics such as asking residents not to use bags, going "back-to-basics" with the items they put in, or tagging carts with too much contamination. Residents in some neighborhoods, either confused or disinterested by all of these changes, have actually begun participating less because of them. Low participation is also an issue for multi-unit residential and commercial buildings, though is unrelated to this current DSS campaign.
The Recycling Partnership's program, sponsored by Target and Coca-Cola so as not to cost the city any money, appears to have delivered some promising early results at the household level. The national nonprofit's targeted education strategy has benefited from lessons in a growing number of cities and is part of an overall ethos of making it simple to recycle, rather than guilting people or giving them complex rationale.
All of this provides a useful baseline for DSS, led by a new commissioner, to combat contamination at a time when few cities can afford it because of current market realities.