Aldermen met Monday to discuss ways to extend the city’s stalled blue cart recycling program, but the official best positioned to provide basic information on the subject wasn’t even at the meeting. Streets and San commissioner Thomas Byrne couldn’t make it because he was “working on something that’s pretty time sensitive,” said 38th Ward alderman Tom Allen, who called the meeting.
So without any clear estimates about how much expansion would cost or what kind of resources would be needed, the meeting quickly dissolved into a bitch session, and aldermen left with few if any answers.
Allen insisted that Byrne's absence wasn't a snub by the Daley administration. “They didn’t blow us off,” Allen told 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore, who asked why no one from Streets and San was present. “They’re definitely on the float.”
My call to the commissioner’s office wasn't returned.
When city officials announced in 2008 that they were sacking their previous household recycling effort, the much-maligned blue bag program, they pledged to offer the blue cart program citywide by 2011. But budget problems and a lack of political will by the administration have put the expansion on hold. The city currently offers the blue cart program to less than half the 700,000 households served by Streets and San garbage crews. Click on the following link for a PDF showing where it's offered: BLUE_CART_MAP_2009.pdf
In the past legislation related to recycling has been introduced by a handful of green-minded aldermen, such as the 46th Ward's Helen Shiller, who last year proposed that new buildings be required to set aside space for recycling. Allen admitted to the joint committees that he doesn’t think he’s “at the top of that list.”
“It’s kind of weird that I’m bringing this up,” he said.
But he explained that he's been barraged by constituents who don't understand why their neighborhoods aren't included in the program. Other aldermen joined the chorus.
“Every single day I’ll have two or three people come up to me, call my office and say, ‘How come we don’t have blue cart recycling and they have it in other parts of the city?’” Moore said. “Quite frankly, I don’t have an answer.”
Forty-fifth Ward alderman Patrick Levar also chimed in about how he went out to eat on Friday night, and while he was enjoying a steak, five guys approached him about recycling services because “their wives are all complaining.”
“You can’t go anywhere,” he said. “You can’t go to Jewel, the doctor’s office, anywhere you go in the community. I go to different wards. I go to Dominick’s out in Bernie’s ward"—that would be 50th Ward alderman Bernie Stone—''so I don’t get bothered.”
Allen noted that other major cities put citywide recycling programs in place years ago. He said New York began its mandatory, city-funded recycling program in 1989, and Los Angeles implemented its own program in 1990, funding it with monthly fees on waste haulers.
Allen floated a few ideas for financing the blue cart program, including using TIF money. But like almost everything else at today’s meeting, the funding question was ultimately left unresolved.
Playing her usual role as a liaison for the administration, energy & environment committee chair Virginia Rugai, the 19th Ward alderman, tried to reassure her colleagues that their complaints will be addressed. She suggested that they make expansion of recycling a priority during hearings for next year’s budget.
It will help if Byrne is around the next time the subject comes up, because some aldermen whose wards aren’t currently included in the blue cart program don't even know how it works.
“This is being picked up twice a month—is that correct?” 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly asked Allen at one point.
“I don’t know,” Allen said. “I don’t have it.”