Chicago has the worst big-city recycling rate in the nation, a poorly advertised and inconsistent yard waste collection strategy and no municipal food composting program. Progress on these issues had long been stalled. But that changed this month when Mayor Lori Lightfoot released the City of Chicago Waste Strategy. According to the city, the plan aims to “minimize landfilling, increase diversion and recycling, reduce cost, and increase efficiency, maximize economic investment and workforce development opportunities, and address social and environmental justice inequities.”

Here are 10 things to know about this long-awaited plan:

NO SET GOALS: The plan features dozens of recommendations but doesn’t include any specific targets or deadlines for waste reduction. Evanston, for example, has a goal of reaching 50% waste diversion by 2025. “I would certainly like to see a little more metrics and accountability and [information on] what happens if we don’t meet goals,” says Carter O’Brien, vice president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, an environmental advocacy group.

A NEW RECYCLING HAULER: Before the plan was released, the city took a major step toward potentially improving its recycling implementing a new contract with a different recycling hauler. A 2018 Better Government Association investigation found the city’s main recycling hauler, Waste Management, was diverting relatively large amounts of “contaminated” recycling materials into the garbage and could potentially profit from that diversion if the materials went to its own landfills. The company denied the allegations, but three years after the investigation it lost its contract with the city.

A DOZEN PRIORITY ITEMS: The strategy outlines dozens of long-term suggestions, including 12 for 2021-2022. The prioritized items range from supporting waste reduction legislation to helping consumers find places for their old electronics and clothes.

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Author: Monica Eng, WBEZ Chicago
Monica Eng, WBEZ Chicago