City officials have distributed a map to aldermen showing that they’re planning to expand the Blue Cart recycling program to most of the north side and a good chunk of the south side between this December and the end of 2008.

If the plan is approved when the City Council votes on the 2008 budget ordinance Wednesday, the city’s source-separated recycling program, in which residents served by city garbage crews place all of their recyclables into blue containers in the alley, will be extended to an 131,000 additional households on top of the 81,000 already included. That would mean that about 30 percent of the 700,000 residences with city garbage service–all Chicago dwellings with four or fewer units, known as low-density residences–will be covered by the program.

City officials say they want to organize this expansion around convenience and geography rather than ward boundaries. Previously the city has rolled the program out ward by ward; currently, all low-density residences in the 1st, 5th, 8th, 19th, 37th, 46th, and 47th Wards have the source-separated recycling service. Under the new plan ward boundaries would be ignored. All the low-density residences from Cicero Avenue east to the lake, and from Diversey north to the city limits, would be included. The service would also be offered to all the low-density homes between 55th and about 103rd, from State Street east to the lake. An area west of State from 55th to 75th would also be included, as would one south to 115th Street between State and Stony Island.

This would mean that all low-density dwellings in the 7th, 20th, 39th, 40th, 48th, 49th, and 50th wards would have blue cart service, along with portions of the 6th, 9th, 10th, 16th, 17th, 30th, 31st, 32nd, 35th, 44th, and 45th Wards. 

Since the new recycling program uses its own trucks and personnel, city officials say, it doesn’t have to run in tandem with garbage pickup, which is coordinated by Streets and Sanitation ward superintendents. Besides offering more efficiency, the new organization plan may satisfy–at least temporarily–a greater number of aldermen, many of whom have been getting the business from constituents demanding better recycling services. 

The Chicago Recycling Coalition and other advocates have praised the Blue Cart pilot for yielding far higher resident participation and keeping about twice as much trash out of landfills as the city’s Blue Bag program. But they’ve also been critical of the slow rollout pace, saying it’s clear that source-separated recycling is far more effective than any other method. Some analysts believe the city is spending too much money and confusing residents by offering different recycling programs in different areas.

But city officials say they’re limited by the up-front investment costs needed to take blue carts citywide. The proposed 2008 budget would set funds to purchase more than 20 new trucks to collect recyclables, at more than $150,000 apiece, and $7.9 million to cover 111 recycling-related jobs. 

None of this will directly help the thousands of people who live in large apartment buildings and condos–unless they’re planning to sneak over to drop their recyclables into a neighbor’s blue cart [scroll down to read PK’s comment at the bottom].

Not that this is legal.