Focusing on Green Building Means Encouraging Green Living, Too

Last Sunday, I had brunch at my friend’s somewhat-new apartment–she moved in a couple of months ago–and although the building may be older, her unit is cutting-edge green from back to front.

I’ve known for years that Michelle preferred locally grown, organic produce; but this place takes that mentality to a whole new level.

Although she doesn’t have a car, Michelle has made two trips to recycling centers to drop off bottles and cans since moving in. And, even more amazingly, there is a worm bin on the back porch that is used to turn fruit and vegetable waste into compost, a process which I’ve since learned is called vermicomposting (and the EPA says is great for apartment-dwellers).

In contrast, my building–which is significantly larger–posted an announcement last week in the elevators that although the board is looking into other options, for now, all recycling can be placed in blue bags and thrown in with the rest of the trash.

The garbagemen, we’re told, will take those bags to a separate site.


"Do not do that," Michelle said, laughing, as she served up our omelets. "Seriously. That’s a total waste of time."

I have to admit, I think she’s right.

Not just because I’m a doubting person by nature–but because the city recently decided to end a similar program, introduced by Mayor Richard Daley in 1995, in which citizens were told to place recyclables in blue bags and–you guessed it–assume they’d find their way to the proper recycling centers.

Not surprisingly, many of them didn’t. According to the Chicago Tribune, the city actually kept just 8 percent of waste from landfills–not the 25 percent officials claimed.

Which is why I don’t believe my cans are going to end up anywhere but a dump, no matter what color bag I toss them out in.

In our recent annual condo board meeting, we were told that the reason our mid-rise building didn’t have a recycling program was because there is an extra charge for a truck to come pick up the recyclables.

So am I supposed to assume that the current waste management guys, out of the goodness of their heart, will take it somewhere else for free? Probably not.

The blue bag program, in fact, was thought to be so infective that local environmentalists aren’t even upset that, because of its phasing-out process, the city will be without any recycling for a few years until the new system–which involves blue bins–begins.

"It’s taken 16 years," a recent post on the Chicago Recycling Coalition‘s homepage said, "but the City of Chicago announced on May 2nd the end of the Blue Bag program and its replacement with the Blue Cart program, just as the Chicago Recycling Coalition has been advocating."

Until I receive my blue recycling bin, I’m told I should drop my trash off at one of the city’s 16 recycling drop-off centers.

And I should. But realistically, we all know that the harder you make it for people to recycle, the less likely they are to do it. Which is unfortunate, because larger buildings like mine could really have an effect if they did recycle.

But it’s hard. Our building doesn’t have balconies or fire escapes, so there’s no outdoor space to store old cans or utilize Michelle’s worm box; and that garbage chute down the hall is pretty tempting when the garbage gets stinky.

So what gives, Chicago? Everybody’s green. Best Buy is now taking old computers and electronics for free.

Sam’s Club is letting members exchange used digital cameras, laptops, MP3 players and printers for gift cards ranging from $1 to $1000, reported Wednesday.

And Mayor Daley–whom I feel is a generally good mayor–gets the importance of being green. This is a man who has said that he wants Chicago to be the greenest city in the U.S.–and planted 500,000 trees to prove it, according to the New York Times.

Granted, he was talking about building–the city has focused on growing green construction and wind and solar energies, according to a 2006 Time article–but still. How many cities have a City Hall with a green roof? (We do.)

For a city of this size to have such a fragmented recycling program it’s a shame. OK, so the blue bag program didn’t work–but why isn’t the city offering financial incentives for buildings like mine to recycle? Think of the impact our multifamily structures could have!

According to the Trib, only a third of Chicago’s 600,000 homes with city garbage service will have the new blue bins by the end of the year. That leaves a lot of citizens without easy recycling options.

Which is–pun intended–really a huge waste.