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Chicago Recycling: Aldermen Take No Action On Expanding Blue Cart Program

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Chicago's stalled recycling program was the subject of much hand-wringing and no action at a City Council committee meeting Monday.

Ald. Tom Allen pushed a measure to expand the blue cart recycling program, now available to roughly one-third of Chicago homes, to the entire city. But unsurprisingly, budget concerns got in the way.

The blue-cart program is seen as a vast improvement over the unpopular and unsuccessful blue-bag recycling plan. That system was canceled two years ago after what the Chicago Sun-Times called "more than a decade of failure and denial."

But last Friday, Mayor Richard M. Daley told reporters there was no money for more blue bins this year. "This budget, of course, everybody is having a hard time," Daley said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

And the City Council's Transportation and Energy committee seemed to feel the same way, avoiding a vote on Ald. Allen's measure after more than an hour of discussing its merits.

There are a few options on the table to pay for more bins, as a separate Tribune article explains. Leftover property tax relief funds or tax-increment financing revenues could be diverted to recycling. A small fee could be levied on homeowners, as Los Angeles has done since 1990.

Or, as a mayoral commission recommended two years ago, recycling could be privatized.

The Sun-Times doesn't see aldermen lining up behind another sell-off of city services:

Privatization has been a sore point with organized labor and its City Council allies, including Allen.

Asked if he could go along with it if it speeds curbside recycling, he said, "I would like to see the city retain jurisdiction. ... Like the parking meter guys, I don't want to be calling somebody in Saudi Arabia to trouble-shoot problems."

Mike Nowak, president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, doesn't want the issue to get pigeonholed over funding concerns.

"Figure out the financing later," he told the Sun-Times. "This is a basic city service. Are we gonna tell people that they're not entitled to basic city services? What do we tell them next -- no more garbage pick-up, no more fire, no more police?"

And Tom Allen sees the issue much the same way. "We don't plow half the street and leave the other half unplowed. We don't pave half the block and leave the other half unpaved."

The committee will take up the question again when Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne comes up with an estimate of the cost of fully implementing the blue-cart system.