Watchdog: Chicago Recycling Program Marred By Conflict Of Interest

Geoff Dankert
October 10, 2018 - 3:50 pm
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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A new independent investigation is raising some serious questions about Chicago's "blue cart" recycling program.

Mayor Emanuel frequently touts the expansion of recycling in Chicago when he talks about quality-of-life issues in the city. Most recently, the mayor mentioned it Monday during an appearance on the Northwest Side to talk about sidewalk repairs.

But the Better Government Association says its research shows Chicago's recycling rate is just 9 percent. That's the worst of any big city in the country, and it's gone down in the last five years.

Back in 2011, the city announced Streets and Sanitation crews would work with private companies to pick up "blue cart" items and send them to recyclers. But on WBBM's Watchdog Wednesday segment, BGA president David Greising said its investigation turned up an eye-opening discrepancy in how recyclables are handled. 

When you throw a pizza box or a thin plastic bag into your "blue cart" to be recycled, waste-collection crews mark it as "contaminated," which means everything in the cart is taken to landfills.

"If you live in one of the areas covered by Waste Management, your chances of having your recycling efforts listed as ‘contaminated’ -- in other words, rejected -- are 20-times higher than everywhere else in the city," Greising said.

He notes Waste Management also owns for-profit landfills, which means the company can theoretically bill the city twice for the same waste -- once when it's picked up from "blue carts," and once when it's sent to its own landfills. 

Waste Management says it is not purposely trying to divert recyclable material into landfills. The company tells the BGA it's only following the guidelines set forth by the city. 

Greising said the BGA's investigation also found issues with how the city runs the recycling program: "The city launched this program claiming it was going to save $10 million a year, (but) they were unable to provide us any information about what the economic savings have been."

Some Chicago aldermen are calling for hearings into how the program is run.

You can find out more about the BGA's investigation -- including a tool to search your neighborhood for recycling information -- by going here: https://projects.bettergov.org/2018/recycling-chicago/