It’s been clear to me for a while that people really do want to keep their garbage out of landfills. But I was still floored to find the bins overflowing the last two times I visited the city’s recycling drop-off site in my neighborhood (pictured). Other people aren’t just surprised and dismayed—they’re pissed.

North-sider Amy Lardner recently decided to e-mail a few suggestions to Streets and Sanitation commissioner Michael Picardi:

I’ve been frustrated by Chicago’s lack of a valid, functional, city-wide, recycling program. Many of my acquaintances and friends are similarly dismayed by Chicago’s failure to show leadership in this area.

Tonight, any alderman or Streets and San official who wants proof Chicagoans want a working municipal recycling program need only go to the Lincoln Park Nature Museum’s drop-off bin. The bin is heaped full and is overflowing. That so many people are making the time and special effort to drop off their recycling should surely prove something to the city’s elected officials.

Until Chicago has a functional recycling program, I will continue to scorn any “green” designation the Mayor and city tout, and so will my friends.

Without recycling, Chicago’s like Detroit. I lived there too. Twenty years ago–it’s when I first started taking my recycling to a suburban drop-off bin, and here I am, living now in a city three times larger than Detroit, doing the same. Shame on Chicago.We need a functioning city-wide recycling program that works for all, from private to municipal haulers, and that means having a working program, enforcing it, and educating residents on how to use it.


Amy Lardner

Amy heard back from one of the commissioner’s staffers (“We are currently working on a number of projects that should address this issue in the future”). After she challenged him for specifics, she got a response from Picardi himself (or someone who signed his name):

Dear Ms. Lardner:

Thank you for your letter and your support for recycling.

Chicago, in fact, is in the midst of a major evolution in recycling–which is a critical priority for Mayor Richard M. Daley. As the lead Department in the effort, Streets and Sanitation constantly seeks ways to improve how we recycle and to encourage a culture of recycling citywide.

Currently, we employ three basic recycling methods: the Blue Cart Program, Blue Bag and our 16 recycling drop-off centers across the city.

Blue Cart is single stream recycling. It has recently gone from field tests to a regional rollout. By 2011 it will be the main recycling mode for all of our residential customers.

Given the cost and logistics of shifting to such a large customer base, Blue Cart will not happen overnight. We believe that once it is in place, the system will offer Chicagoans the best and most up-to-date way to recycle.

An accelerated expansion plan will bring the program to approximately 140,000 homes each year until the end of 2011. At that time Blue Cart will be in place in all 600,000 homes serviced by Streets & Sanitation.

The City provides waste collection to single family homes up to four flats. Buildings with private scavenger service cannot be provided with Blue Cart service. The Chicago High Density Residential and Commercial Source Reduction and Recycling Ordinance, however, requires all buildings that contract for private waste hauling to have a recycling program. This includes residential buildings more than four units, office buildings, restaurants and commercial establishments. This ordinance requires building owners or property managers (the person responsible for providing waste service) to provide a recycling program to tenants.  Furthermore, there must be an education program to ensure everyone is aware of the program.  It does not require building residents or tenants to use the program, but there must be the opportunity to recycle.

As Blue Cart expands, we will most likely look to strengthen the ordinance and require large residential buildings to have a system similar to Blue Cart.

Residents of areas that have yet to transition to Blue Cart may still use our expanded regional drop off centers. If they are not able to do this they may continue to use the Blue Bags until they are officially on Blue Cart. Any Blue Bags placed in the standard black garbage carts will be picked up. While we will no longer pay for mechanical sorting at sorting centers, operators of these centers or the transfer stations where all waste is taken are required by permit to pull these bags and recycle them. Since Blue Bags are used by customers of many private sector haulers who pick up trash and recyclables from high rise residents, they will continue to see Blue Bags at their facilities.

As I say, recycling in Chicago is evolving. We believe that within a few years recycling will be easy and wide spread and that the ideas contained within the culture of recycling will be deeply planted in people’s minds and lives. Again, thank you again for your interest. More information about the City’s efforts can be found at


Michael J. Picardi
Commissioner Department of Streets and Sanitation

And no, I’m not Amy Lardner.