Chicago Moves to Blue Cart Recycling Program

City estimates that by 2011 all of the city will be converted to new program.

May 5, 2008

The city of Chicago has announced that it will be shifting its recycling program to the "blue cart method" as the main method for collecting recyclables. The city expects to have the new program implemented by 2011.

The announcement was made on May 2, and included representatives from several Chicago agencies, as well as ward alderman, heads of recycling and environmental organizations, as well as representatives from the Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

"Beginning in June we will expand our Blue Cart Recycling Program to an additional 92,000 households by the end of 2008, doubling the number of participating households," said Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi. "We will continue on an accelerated expansion plan bringing the program to approximately 140,000 homes each year until the end of 2011 when the Blue Cart will be in place in all of the 600,000 homes serviced by Streets & Sanitation."

Streets & Sanitation’s partner in this process is the Chicago Department of the Environment. "By adopting a system that people are enthusiastic about we are more likely to see it succeed because more people will incorporate recycling into their day to day routines," said Environment Commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna. "While the Blue Bag did help to produce a respectable diversion of waste from our landfills, changes in recycling technology and the increased value of recycled materials made the shift to separate collection a viable option."

Chicago’s move towards the Blue Cart began in April of 2005 with a field test of 700 homes on the far Southwest Side. "We actively sought to be the first test area because we felt that we could show the rest of the city that the Blue Cart was easy to use and the best choice for all Chicagoans," noted Virginia Rugai, 19th Ward Alderman who is also the Chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Energy and the Environment. "Three years and 84,000 households later we have proven our case."

"We have been among the earliest advocates of the Blue Cart Program and applaud the City for finding a way to bring this method to all of their residential customers," noted Julie Dick of the Chicago Recycling Coalition.

The move to Blue Cart recycling has received consistently strong support from the State of Illinois which pledged $8 million dollars in 2006 to allow for the purchase of new Blue Carts.

"Strategically investing in recycling is both an environmentally and economically sound decision. Programs like Chicago's Blue Cart initiative are helping to turn what could have become our trash into a reusable commodity that is spurring private investment and putting more and more people to work," said Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Jack Lavin. "These types of progressive partnerships and investments are good for our state, our economy and our


Given the fact that the Blue Cart method of recycling is more expensive than the method the City has been using, the State of Illinois grant has been helpful to moving this new program forward. Streets & Sanitation has also been adjusting operations to cut costs and deliver recycling and waste collection services more efficiently in the Blue Cart areas.

This includes routing trucks and delivering services along regional grids.

The City will discontinue paying for the processing fee for recyclables at sorting centers and as a result will enable us to accelerate the expansion of the Blue Cart Program.

During the transition to the Blue Cart the City plans to double its existing network of 16 regional recycling drop off centers citywide.

"It is our hope to double the number of drop-off centers by the end of 2008 so that it will be even more convenient for all Chicagoans to recycle," noted Commissioner Picardi. "These additional recycling drop sites will be located at City facilities and Park District sites."

Residents in the Blue Cart Recycling areas are given a blue 96 gallon recycling cart to deposit recyclable materials including paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, tin, and aluminum. Material placed in the blue cart can be loose or bagged and there is no sorting needed.

One of the items that is an important part of the Blue Cart program is yard waste. Under the Blue cart program, yard waste should be placed into any bag that will contain it, even Blue Bags, and placed outside of and next to a resident’s Blue Recycle Cart or Garbage Cart. It will be picked up separately once a week during the months of April through November. But this system will only be in effect in areas that have the Blue Cart.

Persons disposing of yard waste in areas that are waiting on the shift to the Blue Cart are strongly encouraged to compost their yard waste. In the near future the City will provide additional information about composting training and discount bin purchase opportunities.

And whether it comes to yard waste or general recyclables, residents of areas that have yet to make the transition to the Blue Cart can still employ a "last resort" method of recycling by continuing to use the Blue Bag. Since many private haulers have high rise residents that use the Blue Bag, operators of sorting centers or transfer stations where all waste is taken are required by permit to pull these bags and recycle them.