Behind the Scenes of Chicago's New Recycling Campaign

You’ve likely received a postcard in the mail. Maybe you noticed the new billboards. Or maybe you saw people out at the crack of dawn sampling garbage and recycling carts. 

That would be The Recycling Partnership, a national non-profit with a long history of working with cities to get recycling programs clicking on all cylinders. 

The Goal: More, better recycling

With a common goal of collecting more and better quality recyclables in the City's blue bins, the new partnership provides Chicago's recycling program with some needed resources. “We’re in our third year of having a citywide program, so we need to continue to push out information,” says Chris Sauve, Deputy Commissioner for the Streets and Sanitation. “The Recycling Partnership is amazing at being able to provide education and outreach opportunities, and standardizing the look of the recycling education pieces that we have.”

“Most recycling programs face three challenges:” Cody Marshall, VP of Technical Assistance at The Recycling Partnership, explains, “not having enough people to accomplish the work, not having information about what works best, and not having enough money to carry out the plan. 

“We have two or three of us working hand-in-hand with the City at any time. We’re also providing technical information that comes from past projects that have worked so that the city doesn’t have to spend time reinventing the wheel.”  

New recycling postcard. Download one here in English or Spanish. 

One of the organization's tried and true resources are recycling info cards. Highlighting what's recyclable: Cans, Cartons, Glass (bottles & jars), Paper, and Plastic (bottles & containers), alongside the most ‘costly' items that aren't recyclable: no plastic bags and wrap, no bagged recyclables, no foods and liquids, no tanks, and no "tanglers" (things like cords and hoses that wrap around the sorting equipment). Note: polystyrene (aka: styrofoam) is not recyclable in the blue cart but wasn't listed because it's a less costly contaminant. It doesn't break equipment or ruin recyclables like the other "NO!" items do, but it's still not accepted.

As a non-profit, The Recycling Partnership can provide its services to the City free of charge through corporate funding. Sponsors like Coca-Cola and Target provide the budget because they benefit from better recycling, too. Recycled content gets made into new products, turning a good recycling program into a strong supply chain. 

Diving for Data

To get the nitty gritty of what’s being placed inside Chicago’s bins, The Recycling Partnership is taking a feet-on-the-street approach. 

Marshall explains, “We were able to take a random sampling of carts to see what recyclables were going in the garbage, and what garbage was going into the recyclables. Diving into these details gives us a baseline understanding of what’s happening, which allows us to modify our educational materials to meet the needs of the City of Chicago.”  

It's All You

Along with research, the organization is helping to raise awareness for recycling with the “It’s All You” campaign. Inspired by all the everyday moments that include recycling, the campaign helps to remind all of the residents of Chicago of the good they can do. 

It's All You campaign debuts at CTA bus stopsAnd the simple act of recycling has more benefits than some may think. By using our old stuff to make new stuff, recycling conserves natural resources and landfill space. Recycling can also be a lot more energy efficient than manufacturing products from scratch. But what you might not know is that recycling also saves tax dollars. 

"Whatever is going into a blue cart, the City is either directly receiving revenue from that, or it’s offsetting our disposal. It’s a huge win financially.” 

Suave provides some insight. “If material goes into a black cart, the city — aka the taxpayers — are paying for that material to go to a landfill. Whatever is going into a blue cart, the City is either directly receiving revenue from that, or it’s offsetting our disposal. It’s a huge win financially.” 

Environmentally and fiscally, recycling makes good sense. Now's the time to come together as roommates, as families, as stewards of this Earth, and commit to more, better recycling in Chicago. The blue cart needs you!

Three simple ways to get involved: 

  • Join the Campaign and pledge your support for recycling at itsallyou.org. There's a cool water savings calculator that's worth checking out too.

  • Challenge friends and family to take the recycling quiz. Fast, fun, super informative, it's a crash course in Chicago recycling.  

  • Refer to the household recycling guide for a comprehensive view of what's recyclable and what's not. Recycling questions?  Email us or call 3-1-1. 

Stay tuned for Part II “Chicago Recycling by the Numbers” where we’ll dive into the study results and reveal the new resources they've inspired. 

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