The Politics of Garbage | Miscellany | Chicago Reader

The Politics of Garbage 

Recycling Makes Strange Bedfellows: How did Ed Burke get recycling religion? Why are not-for-profit recyclers lining up against his container deposit bill?

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When Ed Burke introduced a comprehensive recycling ordinance back in February, the bill looked like a sure winner. By introducing a recycling ordinance shortly before Earth Day, the 14th Ward alderman created a perfect opportunity to put his personal clout as City Council floor leader and finance committee chairman behind an issue with wide popular appeal.

The prospects for the bill seemed brightest in early March, when Mayor Daley endorsed it at a City Hall news conference and delivered a stern warning to business lobbyists who had been grumbling about the economic impact of the legislation. "Industry better realize that recycling is the number-one issue," said Daley. "They better do it themselves, or the government will clamp down."

The beauty of the Burke ordinance is that it does clamp down on industry--but in a creative fashion that will promote the long-range use of recycled materials. If it passes, the bill will put Chicago on the cutting edge of solid-waste regulation.

But the bill isn't likely to become law in its present form anytime soon, for the ordinance has run into a legislative logjam, caused primarily by business interests that don't want to be forced to comply with new environmental regulations. In addition, recycling groups strongly oppose one key section of the bill. Most of the public discussion of the ordinance has focused on this unexpected conflict, and so environmental groups, not business, will probably take the blame if the bill fails.

Burke's bill complements an earlier recycling ordinance introduced by 44th Ward Alderman Bernie Hansen. The Hansen bill, which passed on February 28, covers the first stage of the recycling process, requiring the city to set up collection systems in all 50 wards by 1993. Collecting paper, metal, glass, and other material that has potential value is certainly a good idea. But to complete the cycle, someone has to be willing and able to turn the old stuff into something that can be sold to a new consumer. Burke's bill, which mandates recycled content for certain products sold within the city limits, would help create a steady stream of buyers for "raw" recycled material.

The Burke bill has three parts. First, it requires all users of newsprint to have at least 50 percent recycled paper by 1996. (The Tribune currently has about 45 percent recycled paper; the Sun Times, about 40 percent. The Reader does not use any recycled paper.) Second, the bill would prohibit by 1992 the use of any packaging material--paper, plastic, or otherwise--that doesn't include 50 percent recycled content or that isn't being collected and processed under a Chicago recycling program.

If enacted as written, this second section of the ordinance would force manufacturers and retailers to redesign packaging materials for a multitude of products. Industry representatives say they want to recycle, but that Burke's bill requires them to do too much too soon. "No one in the paper industry, the glass industry, or the plastics industry can meet that timetable," says Jim Mc Lellan, director of waste management for Amoco Chemical. "And it would devastate the supermarkets. I've seen lists from the various chains, by product name, of products they currently sell that they could not sell."

The packaging section of Burke's ordinance is a far-reaching proposal that would have a substantial impact on virtually every company that does business in Chicago. But the section of the bill that has caused the most public controversy is the third and final part, which would slap a ten-cent deposit on all beverage containers sold within the city. Deposit legislation, a longtime goal of many environmentalists, encourages consumers to return empty containers and takes an entire class of material out of the waste stream. This section has run into predictable opposition from bottlers and retailers--and unexpected attacks from the city's three nonprofit recycling organizations.

The recycling groups--the Resource Center, Uptown Recycling, and Bethel Recycling--are well-known as environmentally conscious service organizations. They strongly support the first two parts of Burke's ordinance, but they are fiercely opposed to the bottle-deposit provision. For with a deposit law in effect, most consumers would return their bottles and cans to retail stores, not to recycling centers--and that would cut off the substantial revenue recyclers now earn from the resale of glass and aluminum.

In addition, recyclers question whether a bottle bill is necessary now that the city is poised--thanks to the Hansen ordinance--to begin recycling service on a citywide basis. Bottles and cans, they think, can be captured most easily with a combination of curbside collection programs and convenient neighborhood drop-off centers. "We're not saying we have to oppose the bill for the sake of our survival, although our survival will be difficult." says Ken Dunn, founder and director of the Resource Center. "What we're saying is, why go to a partial solution when we're close to a comprehensive system?"

Though neither the recyclers nor Burke are talking about it, there is a simple amendment to the proposed bill that could make both sides happy. But faced with a barrage of criticism about the various sections of his bill from an unusual coalition of interests, Burke beat a retreat in May, asking the City Council to appoint a task force to study modifications of his original ordinance. Burke says the bill will still be on track when the task force finishes in a few months, but City Hall observers see a different picture. "City shelves ambitious recycling plan," stated a Chicago Tribune headline the day after the task force was appointed. The accompanying article suggested that Burke's ordinance was "headed into a legislative bog of uncertainty."

Whether Burke's bill ever emerges from that bog--and in what form--will depend on a set of shifting, unpredictable alliances. The politics of garbage tends to scramble the normal alignment of ecological friends and industrial enemies. In its effort to beat back bottle-deposit legislation, for example, the Uptown Recycling Center is circulating a glossy pamphlet on "forced deposit laws," produced by the National Soft Drink Association. Malcolm Chester, who works for Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers, Inc., is also lobbying against Burke's bottle bill--and he's quick to point out that recycling organizations "are some of our strongest allies on this issue."

Environmental lobbyists--as distinct from the hands-on ecologists who actually run recycling programs--like the idea of a bottle bill, but they don't want recycling programs to get crippled in the process. "Some of us think that bottle bills are a good approach," says Kevin Greene of Citizens for a Better Environment. "But we understand the concerns of the nonprofit recyclers. The city should have a stronger commitment to helping the nonprofits."

Sitting in the center of this situation is Ed Burke, who called the initial meeting of his recycling task force at City Hall on the morning of May 24. No actual work was accomplished at the session, but it did provide a press opportunity for Burke, who read a prepared statement to reporters. In a natty suit, sporting a shirt with monogrammed cuffs, and displaying the obligatory aldermanic pinky ring on his left hand, he seemed a bit out of place in the role of environmental champion in the City Council.

For one thing, none of the environmental organizations in town, whether lobbyists or recyclers, seem to trust Burke--and, from the comments Burke makes about environmental groups, the feeling appears to be mutual. Burke doesn't have much of a track record on ecology issues, but he is known for having close links to the business interests who usually oppose new forms of environmental regulation.

The 38-member task force selected by Burke and his staff, for example, has 30 representatives from various companies and industries, but only 3 from environmental organizations. (The other five slots are filled by three government officials, a union representative, and an environmental lawyer whose sympathies are unclear.) Burke admits that representation on the task force is a bit slanted. "But that's not to say we are not going to forge ahead with a tough ordinance," he insists. The job of task-force members, he says, is to provide information. "They're not there to write the law."

When Bernie Hansen sponsored the recycling-collection bill that passed in February, he did allow outsiders to write his law--but the outsiders were environmentalists. According to people familiar with the history of the legislation, the ordinance was actually drafted by the Chicago Recycling Coalition, which then lined up Hansen to be the sponsor. (Hansen, since nearly losing his council seat to reform challenger Ron Sable in 1987, frequently tries to cover his left flank, and many liberal interest groups view him as the perfect front man for controversial legislation. In recent years he has sponsored a gay-rights bill, the recycling ordinance, and a bill spelling out the city's power to seize factories to prevent plant closings.)

In contrast, Burke's recycling ordinance emerged from the staff of the finance committee, who hadn't consulted with environmental groups--which leaves more than a few people wondering out loud about Burke's true motives. Beth Newman of the Chicago Recycling Coalition says, "There are some very cynical people who say that when this kind of thing is brought up, it's an opportunity for those companies to make a very nice donation to that politician's fund." The bills she's referring to are called "fetchers." The idea is that once enough contributions come in, the sponsor of the offending legislation will make sure the bill gets buried--at least until the sponsor feels the need to fatten up his or her campaign fund again.

Burke's campaign fund, which had more than $500,000 in it as of February, doesn't need much fattening. He will be up for reelection for his sixth full term, and he hasn't faced an opponent from his own ward since 1971. Burke probably doesn't need much help getting reelected alderman, but he has been a regular seeker of higher office, having launched unsuccessful campaigns for state's attorney, Congress, mayor, and county board president. A streak of Irish green was once a key credential for a Chicago political career; Burke may be adjusting to modern times by trying to use a tinge of environmental green to soften his image. "There's a lot of political currency to be gained in being a politician who calls himself an environmentalist," says Sharon Pines of Greenpeace. She and others are concerned that Burke's conversion to the environmental cause may be geared more toward gaining favorable publicity than toward accomplishing substantive reforms.

Burke has an entirely straightforward explanation for his actions. "I have to admit that I haven't been a 20-year environmental activist," he says. "But I do read a lot. And the more I read, the more I came to the realization that we've got to do something about solid waste."

As chairman of the finance committee, Burke is well aware of how much it will cost the city to keep disposing of trash in the conventional fashion. Only about 4 percent of Chicago's garbage is now recycled; 25 percent is incinerated, and the rest is dumped in landfills. Rising concerns about the hazards of landfills and falling numbers of available sites have led to huge increases in the cost of trash disposal. In 1987 the city was paying $19 million a year to haul a million tons of garbage to landfills; this year the cost will be $48 million. That's just the cost of hauling it away; the cost of collecting the garbage in the first place is another $75-$100 million a year. At $150 million a year, Chicago's garbage bill represents 10 percent of the city's $1.5-billion-a-year operating budget. And the cost is growing at a rapid pace, which makes financial planners especially nervous. "It's alarmingly clear," explains Burke, "that if the spiral continues, it would be a major threat to the city's financial health." That, he says, is why he has been reading up on recycling.

Sharon Pines is less concerned about what Burke is reading than about who he listens to. She's convinced that it was business lobbyists who played the largest role in moving his recycling bill off the front burner and onto the slow simmer of a task force. After the legislation was introduced, she says, "about a dozen representatives of the plastics industry marched into his office and attempted to talk him out of going forward. I believe it was at this point that he agreed to set up the task force." She also says she was asked to serve on the task force. "My response was I would not sit on a task force, the main job of which seemed to be to eviscerate what seemed to be a good ordinance. I hear from Burke's people that his intent is not to water it down. We'll have to see what happens."

Burke counters that ecology groups, not business lobbyists, have done the most harm to his bill. "The environmentalists have done more to water it down than anyone by opposing the bottle-deposit provision," he says. "I could probably have resisted the lobbying efforts of industry. But when they were able to enlist recyclers, who are more closely identified with environmentalists, it probably made it impossible to pass the bottle-deposit section of the bill."

If it's hard for some people to figure out why Ed Burke decided to become an environmentalist, it's even harder for others to understand why the city's recycling groups have come out against bottle-deposit legislation.

The push for deposit laws was a primary environmental goal of the late 70s and early 80s. By most estimates beverage containers make up about 5 percent of the garbage that Americans throw away each year. An effective deposit system removes almost all of this trash from the waste stream. The nine states with bottle bills on the books, reports the Environmental Action Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group, "achieve return rates for beverage containers in the vicinity of 80 to 95%--unequalled in any non-deposit state. . . . High rates of return provide a basis for high levels of recycling."

The beverage industry, which has effectively prevented bottle bills from being enacted in Illinois and a number of other states, usually argues that deposit legislation will bring an increase in the price of beer and soft drinks, since manufacturers and retailers have to cover the increased costs of handling returned containers. That price increase, says Sharon Pines, is actually one of the positive aspects of bottle-deposit legislation. "I'm in favor of anything that internalizes the cost of dealing with solid waste. As it is now, we do not pay the total cost of what it is we buy. We buy something in a plastic bottle, and plastic is real cheap. But we don't factor in the cost of disposal, or the health effects--like polluted air from incinerators. We're getting by much too cheaply. All of these social costs should be included in the price of items we buy."

If a Chicago bottle bill would reduce solid waste, promote recycling, and encourage socially responsible consumption, why are the city's nonprofit recycling organizations working to kill it? One of the people best prepared to answer that question is the Resource Center's Ken Dunn, a former philosophy teacher who is generally regarded as the dean of the city's nonprofit trash pickers. Rattling down the highway in a noisy truck full of newspapers, Dunn explains his position between bites of a sprout sandwich.

The Resource Center, he says, has been running recycling programs for more than 20 years, but it was only in 1988 that it began to receive any funds from the city. After years of trying, Dunn finally persuaded officials from the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation that they should pay him a fee for every ton of trash the Resource Center managed to divert away from expensive landfills. As of this fall all three nonprofit recycling groups will be receiving these payments--called diversion credits--in exchange for curbside collection routes they run in various city neighborhoods.

But for years Chicago recycling centers had to operate without government support. So they clawed their way to self-sufficiency, scraping together budgets from foundation grants, community donations, and the sale of materials. "A lot of people have the idea 'There's money in this trash. I'll go out and get it, and go make some money,'" says Dunn. "Most of them don't last past the time they have to replace their first vehicle." While there is some value in just about any discarded material, it costs money to collect, process, and deliver it to someone who is willing to pay for it. Unfortunately, a lot of things that people throw away aren't worth very much (which is probably why they were thrown away in the first place).

In the modern urban environment one material stands out as a money-maker: aluminum. It takes 95 percent less energy to make a can from recycled aluminum than from virgin bauxite--and since aluminum makers like to reduce their energy bills, they're willing to pay a premium for recycled aluminum. It now sells for $1,200 a ton. The high value of aluminum creates a high motivation for recycling, and aluminum-industry sources say that 60 percent of aluminum cans used in the U.S. are now being recycled. No other consumer material is being recycled at anywhere near that rate.

Aluminum came into widespread use in the early 70s with the development of new manufacturing processes that gave it a cost advantage over steel and bimetal cans. The timing was perfect for fledgling recycling programs in Chicago and elsewhere, which found themselves with a valuable material that could be used to subsidize the rest of their operations.

"It's nice to have the extra value," says Dunn. "But each advantage has its disadvantage." He's had to build a fence and hire a security guard to protect the aluminum stored at the Resource Center's scrap yard. A variety of other materials is also stored at the yard, including paper, glass, tree branches, and horse manure (which comes from the Chicago Police Department horse stables).

Aluminum represents a tiny portion--maybe 1 percent--of total household waste. But its value is far higher than any other material in the waste stream. Paper and cardboard, for example, account for nearly 40 to 50 percent of household garbage--but newsprint, the grade of paper most commonly offered for resale, sells for a mere $5 to $10 a ton. And it costs more than $10 to collect and process a ton of paper. So any profit-minded trash picker with a shred of common sense would leave paper for the landfill and concentrate on aluminum--or glass, which sells for about $40 a ton.

That's exactly what most of the city's scrap dealers do. There are more than 100 of them, says Dunn, but very few of the for-profit scrap companies will accept paper. Even bottles and cans are mostly a sideline. Most scrap dealers specialize in waste from manufacturers--nonferrous metals such as brass and copper--which come in high volume and have a high market value.

But recycling groups such as the Resource Center weren't founded on "common" economic sense, but on a set of social goals. "We specialize in discards from the urban household," says Dunn. "No scrap yard would do that, because you can't make money on it."

And no self-respecting tree-loving environmentalist could pass up the chance to collect the thousands of tons of newsprint that city dwellers toss out every week. But the high price of aluminum is the hidden subsidy that allows the Resource Center, Uptown Recycling, and Bethel Recycling to provide multiservice programs to capture paper and other low-value waste materials (such as horse manure).

The Resource Center has an annual budget of $1.5 million, and Dunn guesses that about $500,000 of it comes from the sale of aluminum. Steve Steinhoff, manager of Bethel Recycling, estimates that aluminum sales account for almost half of his $400,000-a-year budget. Dale Alekel-Carlson, director of the Uptown Recycling Center, is unwilling to give a detailed breakdown of the center's revenues, but she says that 80 percent of the money earned from the sale of materials comes from bottles and cans. Based on available budget figures, they probably account for almost one-third of Uptown's $300,000 annual income.

So together the three nonprofit recyclers stand to lose more than $700,000 if Chicago passes a bottle bill, or just about one-third of their combined budgets of $2.2 million. Could they survive those kinds of losses? "We could probably work out a new equation," says Dunn, "but I don't see how that would be possible right now."

One alternative would be for the city to make up the difference; $700,000 is a tremendous sum for three struggling nonprofit groups, but it's only a tiny fraction of the city's overall $150-million garbage budget. "All the existing drop-off and recycling programs would really be negatively impacted by deposit legislation," says Doug Ziesemer, who, as assistant commissioner of the Department of Streets and Sanitation, administers the city's recycling effort. "We're already giving them some financial support. The bottle bill would obviously put them in a more difficult financial situation." But he says any decision on whether the city would come up with increased subsidies belongs to City Council.

Alderman Burke is not optimistic about new funds for recycling groups--or for anybody else. "We don't have the money to fund what we're supposed to do already. Since the prospects aren't very good, I wouldn't want to go raising any expectations." With that kind of statement from the chair of the finance committee, it's no surprise that recyclers prefer holding on to their precious aluminum.

If a new piece of legislation were to threaten the life of a conventional business, you can be sure the owner would be screaming bloody murder and telling the government to butt out of the marketplace. But recyclers don't feel comfortable speaking in favor of their own self-interest. "Our goal is not a narrow one, as in, 'How can we survive?'" says Dale Alekel-Carlson. "Our goal is to see that recycling is furthered."

In their efforts to avoid sounding self-interested, however, recyclers make some arguments that are less than persuasive. They don't want to talk much about the income they would lose as a result of the bottle bill--they would rather talk about whether bottle-deposit laws are more efficient than curbside recycling programs.

Deposit laws, the recyclers say, are redundant and don't fit in well with curbside programs. That claim is hard to swallow, since a number of cities in the nine bottle-bill states are operating effective curbside programs. Recyclers also argue that curbside programs can produce a higher return rate for bottles and cans than a bottle bill. But it's hard to imagine any curbside program in a city as large and diverse as Chicago that would achieve the 80 to 90 percent return rates reported in bottle-bill states. Curbside programs work best in neighborhoods with upscale demographics--high levels of income, education, and single-family home ownership. Some Chicago neighborhoods fit that profile, some don't. As a result, the city is unlikely to achieve high recycling rates anytime soon--but a bottle bill would produce a high rate of return almost immediately after it takes effect.

Recyclers are least convincing when they start to imitate the anti-bottle-bill arguments usually advanced by industry. The April 1990 issue of Uptown Recycling's newsletter, for example, includes an article called "The Truth About the Bottle Bill." Among other things in the article (including a warning about price increases) is the argument that "supermarkets should not be turned into material handling facilities for recyclables." But as the solid-waste crisis continues, it makes perfect sense for every retail store--and every office, factory, and home--to set up a handling system for recyclable materials. One of the advantages of a bottle bill, in fact, is that it forces retailers and consumers to abandon the throwaway mentality that has plagued post-World War II America.

The best argument recyclers have against the Burke bill is the one they are most reluctant to use. A bottle bill could severely damage the financial health of Chicago's nonprofit recycling groups--and if that happens, the entire city will suffer.

Within the next three years, under the terms of the Hansen ordinance, the city will offer recycling service to all 50 wards. At the very moment when Chicago is finally poised to establish a citywide recycling program, it doesn't make much sense to cripple the very organizations that have the hands-on experience to make the program work.

The Hansen bill envisions a mix of providers. Some wards will be serviced by the city, others by private contractors. There will be heavy bidding for those private contracts. The players will surely include such trash-industry giants as Browning-Ferris and Waste Management, which operates 150 recycling programs around the country. Lee Addleman, Waste Management's midwest recycling coordinator, recently told Chicago Enterprise magazine that his company would love to land a Chicago contract.

The city's nonprofit recyclers would also love to land government contracts to expand their curbside-collection services. The Resource Center, in fact, recently outbid Waste Management to win the recycling contract for the village of Oak Park. "We were the low bidder," says Ken Dunn. "And there was some feeling that we had more capability to get people involved in the program." But it's unclear whether the Resource Center, Uptown Recycling, and Bethel Recycling will be able to survive--much less bid on any new contracts--if a bottle bill goes into effect and they immediately lose huge chunks of their budgets.

Who would you rather have collecting your recyclables? A garbage conglomerate like Waste Management, which has repeatedly violated environmental laws and regulations? The Department of Streets and Sanitation, which has spent years fumbling the ball on recycling? Or one of the organizations that started recycling on a shoestring budget years before it was fashionable? Even if the nonprofit groups were to win contracts to cover only a few city wards, they would be likely to provide an environmentally responsible service that would set the standard against which other providers would be judged.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation, for example, is now conducting a recycling pilot program in four city wards. Recycling activists are dumbfounded that the city decided not to include newspaper in its pickups, even though paper makes up a significant chunk of the waste that goes into landfills--and reducing the use of landfills is supposed to be the whole point of recycling.

It was a market-driven decision, says Doug Ziesemer. The price of paper was extremely low at the time the city began its program, and there were concerns about not being able to sell the material. The city did decide to collect plastic, however--after receiving a $75,000 grant from Amoco Chemical to study the feasibility of plastics recycling. "We had a strong desire to get some experience," says Ziesemer. "There wasn't a lot known about plastics, because they are not included in most recycling programs."

One of the reasons plastics are not included in most recycling programs is that many environmentalists think the material should be banned, not recycled. "So-called plastics recycling is a way for the plastics industry to increase their market share--and the plastics industry says that," says Sharon Pines. She argues that chemical companies promote plastics recycling only where they see a legislative threat to ban the use of plastic material. Increased use of plastic "means the generation of more toxic waste, the continued depletion of petroleum and natural-gas resources, and the continuation of a reliance on disposable, throwaway items which are choking us environmentally and economically."

If recycling in Chicago is left up to the Department of Streets and Sanitation and companies such as Waste Management, it's quite possible that the program will be continually contaminated by "market-driven" decisions and environmentally questionable practices. So if a legislative initiative such as Burke's bottle bill is going to harm nonprofit recyclers, it probably isn't worth the trouble.

But deposit legislation doesn't have to hurt nonprofit recyclers. While a bottle bill would eliminate the subsidy from the sale of aluminum that has supported recyclers, it also creates a new--and largely unnoticed--revenue stream. With some simple amendments to his bill, Alderman Burke could ensure that recycling programs have all the money they need for the foreseeable future--without taking a penny from existing city revenues.

Some people are lazy--so lazy that they won't bother to return cans and bottles to the store, even when they're worth ten cents each. The deposits paid on these unreturned containers pile up in the accounts of the beer and soft-drink bottlers, who collect the deposits from retailers. But the bottlers can't spend the money, because it isn't really theirs. In Michigan the bottle bill that was passed by citizen referendum in 1976 contained no provision for dealing with unclaimed deposits. The state legislature agreed on a plan to distribute the money just last year--and they had more than $100 million to divvy up among industry, state environmental programs, and community recycling efforts.

How much would unclaimed deposits add up to in Chicago? If you assume that every one of Chicago's three million citizens buys one six-pack of beer or soda a week, that translates into 936 million cans and bottles purchased each year. With a ten-cent deposit in effect, consumers would pay out $93.6 million per year in deposits. In most bottle-bill states about 90 percent of beverage containers are returned, so if 10 percent of the money went unclaimed, there would be a yearly surplus of $9.36 million--not a bad sum to play around with. Some of the money might go to wholesalers and retailers, to compensate them for the increased handling costs associated with the bottle bill. And the city might want to claim a portion for environmental-protection programs.

If recyclers received just a third of the unclaimed bottle-deposit money, that could be more than $3 million a year--more than four times the amount they will lose if the bottle bill takes away their supply of aluminum. Not only could existing groups continue to function with that money, but they could expand their operations--and new organizations could be formed in areas of the city that need recycling programs.

If Ed Burke wants to get recyclers off his back, he can start by amending his bill to make sure recycling groups get a piece of the new pie that will be created by unclaimed deposits. But Burke isn't working on any such rewrites. He's too busy complaining that recyclers are ganging up on him.

Have recyclers suggested any amendments to the bottle bill that would alleviate their financial problems? Not yet. Thanks to the way Burke stacked his recycling task force only one nonprofit recycler--Dale Alekel-Carlson --has a seat on it. And she seems to be more interested in defeating the bottle bill than in fixing it.

Basically, Burke and the nonprofit recyclers appear to be talking past one another, instead of to one another. "I think the bottle bill and nonprofit recycling groups could coexist--if the city was strongly committed to recycling and was looking at a progressive agenda to help expand those programs," says Kevin Greene of Citizens for a Better Environment. "But I don't see that happening. The nonprofits are having a difficult time just surviving." Greene, who also sits on the recycling task force, says it's too early to tell what will happen to the various pieces of Burke's comprehensive recycling ordinance--including the bottle bill, packaging restrictions, and recycled-newsprint requirements. But he expects the 30 industry lobbyists on the task force to work to eliminate or modify many of the main provisions of the legislation.

If they succeed, they are likely to avoid taking too much credit. And thanks to the controversy over bottle-deposit legislation, they can accomplish their objectives without drawing much attention to themselves. If the City Council fails to take further steps to promote recycling this year, no one will point at newspaper publishers who want to avoid the cost of using recycled newsprint. Or at manufacturers and retailers who don't want to deal with stringent packaging requirements. Or at bottling companies who are implacably opposed to bottle-deposit legislation. Instead, they will point at Chicago's nonprofit recyclers--who have done more than anyone else to promote recycling in Chicago during the past two decades.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kent Matricardi.

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