Chicago rolls out 2 pilot programs to improve low recycling rates
- Faced with ongoing contamination and participation issues, Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) has rolled out the first in a series of targeted pilot programs based on feedback from recent community meetings, as reported by DNAinfo.
- Contamination rates have gone up since the city asked residents to keep plastic bags out of their recycling carts, therefore 5,000 households in the West and Northwest sides of the city will receive "blue cart buddy" bags. These reusable bags will make it easier to transport recyclables outside to the carts and will also include educational information.
- The second pilot is in the city's Southeast Side, where participation rates are low and some carts reportedly aren't being used. DSS employees will go door-to-door with educational materials to get more residents involved in the program.
Residents have been slow to adapt to new recycling initiatives since Chicago's blue cart recycling program launched for 600,000 households in 2013. Contamination rates have been high in some areas and the city's residential diversion rate recently dropped below 10%. A 50% diversion rate is seen as a realistic goal but DSS has recognized that new ideas will be needed to get there.
Haulers have tried a variety of tactics to approach contamination, though results seem to vary on a case-by-case basis. San Antonio has taken an enforcement approach by adding fines to residential energy bills, while Waste Management suspended its own tracking program in Arkansas due to technology issues. The Recycling Partnership conducted a targeted campaign in select Massachusetts communities earlier this year that involved tagging carts with contamination, but followed up with education rather than enforcement.
Waste Management has seen success with door-to-door education in the Seattle area which bodes well for this similar concept in Chicago. Studies continue to show that confusion around terminology and separation guidelines is one of the largest barriers to proper participation so more engagement has the potential to improve the city's program.
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