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Chicago’s recycling rate remains low, even as the pandemic increased the amount of household waste
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Chicago’s recycling rate remains low, even as the pandemic increased the amount of household waste

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Chicago's former blue bag recycling program, shown here in 2006, was controversial and had low participation. The city long ago moved to bin recycling, but the recycling rate has been stagnant at below 10%.

CHICAGO — Chicago’s household recycling rate is still stuck in the single digits despite Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s attempts to improve residents’ stubbornly low participation in the perennially underachieving recycling program.

Appearing for Streets and Sanitation’s City Council hearing on its 2022 budget proposal, Deputy Commissioner Chris Sauve delivered the annual bad news.

The amount of recycled refuse has increased during the pandemic as more people stay home. “The diversion percentage is staying constant, though. It stays in that 8% to 9% diversion range,” Sauve said.

That’s the same number so far this year as the end of 2020, before the mayor announced an $80 million, three-year contract in April with a new recycling company, LRS, aimed at improving the abysmal recycling participation.

Chicago’s household recycling, which is picked up in the blue carts in city alleys, has actually decreased from 11% in 2014, at a time many other American cities are seeing their recycling rates improve.

After five years of legal battles, gentrification concerns and a federal review, Barack and Michelle Obama attended a celebratory groundbreaking Tuesday.

The recycling rate — also called the diversion percentage — is the percentage that’s recycled from the total amount of refuse that’s collected from bins outside Chicago single-family homes and apartment buildings with four or fewer units. Larger apartment and commercial buildings are responsible for their own trash and recycling pickup through private contractors.

Streets and Sanitation will have a bigger budget to more quickly replace broken or stolen garbage and recycling carts in 2022, a result of Lightfoot’s finance team agreeing to grant the department an extra $900,000, according to Acting Commissioner Cole Stallard.

Aldermen also leaned on Stallard on Tuesday to more quickly trim and remove dead trees, and pressed for better rat eradication efforts in neighborhoods citywide.

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