America's Newspapers
Paper: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Title: Success spurs city to expand curbside recycling
Date: April 20, 2006

Suburban-style curbside recycling will be expanded to more Chicago neighborhoods within the next month after drawing 80 percent participation during a yearlong experiment in Beverly, a top mayoral aide said Wednesday.

Environment Commissioner Sadhu Johnston emphasized that City Hall is not throwing in the towel on blue bag recycling. In fact, he insisted that the program that recycling advocates have called a dismal failure actually has been a success.

80% PARTICIPATED IN PILOT PLAN

But with only 13 percent of city residents participating -- and an even lower percentage of their recyclables diverted from the city's 1.2-million-ton-a-year waste stream -- it's time to try something different, he said.

"We've heard loud and clear from many parts of the city that they want to see recycling diversified. They want to see different options," Johnston said after joining Mayor Daley at the unveiling of an Environmental Action Agenda for 2006 that includes the expansion of curbside recycling.

"We know that it's worked really well in our pilot area. We want to expand it to other wards to see how it works. Does it work in a dense community? Does it work in different demographics? . . . Our goal is to improve recycling in the city. Nothing's off the table in finding ways to do that."

Johnston played it coy when asked how the expansion would be financed. He would say only that an analysis was under way. "We're looking into grants. We're looking into leasing the [sorting centers]. . . . There's some very creative ideas we're looking into."

For 10 years, Chicagoans have been asked to place plastics, cans, bottles and paper into blue bags and toss them in with routine garbage.

The program has been a flop.

Only 13 percent of city residents bother to participate. The Daley administration has managed to recover and recycle just 8 percent of the waste picked up by city crews.

In late December, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) proposed a City Council order that establishes a 2009 deadline for the city to trash blue bag recycling, only to be shot down by Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi.

In the 19th Ward, where curbside recycling has achieved an 80 percent participation rate, Picardi pegged the added cost at $1 a week per household.

If all 700,000 households get the same service, the price tag would be $35 million, Picardi said. "We do not have a revenue source to pay for separate collection. . . . The mayor does not want to raise taxes to do separate collection."

The Chicago Recycling Coalition has argued that curbside pickups made once every two weeks -- not once a week, as in Beverly -- would cost just $15.2 million. That's an estimate that, Johnston argued, did not include the cost of leaf collections mandated by the state.

More recently, Daley has said that Chicago could finance a citywide switch to curbside recycling if three waste transfer stations were leased to private investors in a deal patterned after the $1.83 billion Chicago Skyway lease.

WIND TURBINE FOR DALEY CENTER

Now, Johnston is saying that at least some expansion of curbside recycling is on the table, even before transfer stations are privatized.

If it happens, Ald. Ginger Rugai (19th) wants to be first in line. The yearlong Beverly experiment is confined to 700 households in the area bounded by Western, 99th Street, Longwood Drive and 103rd Street.

"We'd like to see it expanded to the whole ward. Every meeting I attend, there's always a question, `When are we going to get the blue bins?' " Rugai said.

The mayor's Environmental Action Agenda also includes recycling drop-off centers in 15 neighborhoods for collection of glass, cans and paper; a new Chicago Conservation Corps of environmental volunteers; 50 bicycles for city workers; valet bike parking at 10 large events and festivals; lighting retrofits at all 105 Chicago fire stations, and installation of 225 more recycled rubber speed humps in Chicago alleys in 2006.

Within four months, a wind turbine will be installed on the roof of the Daley Center to produce a small portion of the building's electricity. At 680 feet in the air, it will be the highest wind turbine attached to a building in the world.

"We're like the Wright brothers. After they went the 120 feet, they went back to the lab and flew a mile. Boy, that was remarkable. Then, they flew five miles. We're in that five-mile category," said Bil Becker, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who invented the devices known as "Aeroturbines."

"We'll be placing a small wind machine at the highest point ever placed. If it works, it'll start a whole new thinking among architects and engineers that you can start to design buildings with wind power as an inherent part."

fspielman@suntimes.com
  Caption:
Photo: SADHU JOHNSTON: Environment chief

Copyright (c) 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

Author: Fran Spielman
Section: News
Page: 22
Copyright (c) 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.