06/15/2010 01:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Recycling in Chicago -- A City of Haves and Have Nots

In most of my City Council reports, I've focused on the resolutions, ordinances, and orders introduced, debated, or voted upon at that monthly assembly. But another important step in the process is when the legislation is assigned to a City Council committee to be discussed and then sent back (or not) to the full Council for final approval.

This month I'd like to give you a snapshot of the meeting of the Environmental Protection, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee, of which I am a member. The committee met Monday, June 7 to discuss a matter very near and dear to many of us--the future of Chicago's Blue Cart recycling program.

As I reported to you last I month, I co-sponsored a measure introduced by my colleague Alderman Tom Allen (38th Ward), which would require the Daley Administration to expand the Blue Cart program to all 600,000 city households whose trash is collected by the City of Chicago. Currently, only about a third of those households get Blue Cart recycling, with more than 400,000 households slated to receive it at some ill-defined point in the future.

The hearing on June 7th was the first step in what promises to be a long fight to expand recycling citywide. So it was heartening that almost twenty aldermen showed up to forcefully speak in favor of completing the expansion.

In fact, the voices of support came from almost every corner of the city, from Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward, Downtown) to Pat Dowell (3rd Ward, Bronzeville/Grand Blvd.), to John Pope (10th Ward, Far Southeast Side) to Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward, Logan Square). Clearly recycling is no longer an issue that only interests "Lakefront Liberals"--it has become a basic service that every sector of the city wants, expects, and deserves.

Many of us pointed out that recycling is the only municipal service not available to the entire city. Can you imagine only one-third of Chicago's streets being swept or only one-third of our residents receiving police or fire protection? We also noted the absence of any citywide education about Blue Cart recycling, as the program remains less than universal. The resulting confusion has contributed to relatively low--and dropping--Blue Cart recycling rates.

This hearing was just the beginning. Budget hearings will start in the fall, and I promise you I will be working both in committee and behind the scenes to help recycling expand citywide.