Archive dive: How recycling got its start in Chicago | Bleader

Monday, January 7, 2019

Archive dive: How recycling got its start in Chicago

Posted By on 01.07.19 at 04:12 PM

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The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every week in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Thirty years ago a program developer for the Chicago nonprofit the Resource Center declared, "Recycling is the future." The Beverly neighborhood was the first to see blue recycling bins out on the curb in hopes of starting a movement to cut down on overflowing landfills. But not everyone in the city was on board.

In 1989 Ben Joravsky asked the question "Is Chicago ready for recycling?,"  diving into the political struggles to bring those now ubiquitous blue bins to the city. Alderman Ed Burke (yup, the one and only) was the chairman of the city council committee deciding on the issue at the time.
"The committee hearing on Hansen's proposal was kind of a joke," says White. "Burke was the only committee member who attended, and after a while he started talking on a telephone. So there we were, testifying in favor of this important proposal that can help shape the city's future, and no aldermen were even listening."

Bannister and other city officials testified against Hansen's proposal, arguing that it was unrealistic. A few weeks later the Department of Streets and Sanitation announced its plans to conduct a curbside program in four wards—the 7th, 12th, 31st, and 41st—using city workers. The dumps, meanwhile, continue to fill.
Sure, the system still has its flaws, and the overall success of Chicago's recycle program compared to other cities leaves something to be desired. But maybe we can take the tiniest bit of comfort knowing that at least some progress has been made in the last 30 years.

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