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To the editors:

I would like to respond to several of the issues raised in the Reader’s July 20 story on my proposed recycling ordinance, “The Politics of Garbage: Recycling Makes Strange Bedfellows.”

First, in the story, environmental groups and recyclers come up with a multitude of reasons for why they haven’t supported the ordinance. None of them, however, contends that the ordinance is not a good proposal. This reason is not given because the recyclers and environmentalists know the ordinance would put Chicago on the forefront of recycling. Yet the same recyclers and environmental groups have not supported the ordinance in any meaningful way. Instead, as the Reader story demonstrates, they have remained on the sidelines and sniped at my proposals in the press.

Second, contrary to the story, my staff did consult environmental groups and recyclers throughout the nation while drafting the ordinance. The contact may not have been as extensive as the groups would have liked, but I haven’t heard many complaints that my proposals aren’t tough enough. Therefore, I must ask what the point is.

Third, environmental groups and recyclers claim that I created the Recycling Advisory Task Force as a vehicle for business to scuttle the ordinance. Indeed, the story charges I “stacked” the recycling Task Force with business interests. However, of the numerous environmental and recycling groups I invited, only two agreed to serve on the Task Force. Greenpeace’s Sharon Pines, for example, is quoted in the story as saying she would not sit on the Task Force because she felt its purpose “seemed to be to eviscerate what seemed to be a good ordinance.” For the environmental groups to refuse to serve on the Task Force with the business interests and then to charge that the Task Force is stacked against them is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The fact is that I convened the Task Force as a way to hear from all sides the practical concerns of implementing such a far-reaching ordinance. One of these concerns could have been the effect the beverage deposit would have on not-for-profit recyclers. But since the Task Force was convened, no recycler or environmental group has offered any constructive ideas or comments on the ordinance.

Finally, I must admit I am a bit baffled why recyclers and environmental groups have failed to support such important recycling legislation. The story alludes to the fact that some environmentalists are wary because of my lack of a track record on environmental issues. I admit I haven’t proposed environmental laws in the past, but I must ask what this has to do with the current ordinance. Which is more important, the ordinance or the name affixed to the bottom? Do I have to be Rachel Carson before the environmentalists will support my proposals?

I too hoped my recycling ordinance would move more quickly than it has. That is why I still would like the environmental groups and recyclers to get involved and get things moving. The story is correct in pointing out that the business interests are working to put their stamp on the ordinance; I urge Chicago’s environmental community not to miss the opportunity to do the same. Together, I think we can forge a law that will put Chicago on the forefront of recycling.

Edward M. Burke


Roger Kerson replies:

Alderman Burke is correct: he did quite a bit of homework before introducing his recycling bill. But he didn’t do much of it very close to home. When I wrote that Burke’s committee staff “hadn’t consulted with environmental groups,” I should have made it clear that I meant local environmental groups. It’s true, as Burke says, that his staff talked to “environmental groups and recyclers throughout the nation.” The innovative packaging restrictions in Burke’s bill, for example, are based on a ballot initiative developed by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, while the newspaper-recycling provision is modeled on legislation that has been introduced in California.

But Burke’s ordinance, if it passes, will apply to Chicago–not California or Massachusetts. And the environmentalists and recyclers I talked to here say they never heard from Burke or his staff until after the ordinance was introduced. If Burke had talked to local recyclers, he would not have been surprised to find that they would oppose bottle-deposit legislation, since they perceive it as a threat to their financial well-being.

Burke is upset that recyclers and environmental groups have been “sniping” at his proposals, instead of supporting them. Now that he’s sniped at them, does he think they’ll be in a more cooperative mood? Burke’s letter neatly illustrates one of the principal points of my article–that business lobbyists who oppose Burke’s bill are staying invisible, while environmentalists get blamed for stalling.