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The Pulse

Chicago recycling:
bin v bag




Recycling has become a visible and increasingly important issue in Chicago, as well as across the nation. A state law was passed requiring all municipalities to develop a recycling program for their residents. Controversy regarding the method of collection has surrounded the proposed recycling program in Chicago.

The two competing programs are the bag program and the bin program. The bag program, supported by the city adminstration and Mayor Rich Daley, would require residents to place recyclables in a plastic bag. City crews would collect and place the bags in the compactor along with regular garbage. At the end of the garbage route, the bags would be separated from the rest of the refuse and processed. Bag proponents cite the cost effectiveness since residents would save tax dollars because only one crew is needed to collect recyclables and regular garbage. Furthermore, supporters say that recyclables collected by the bag program are suitable for re-processing.

The bin program is similar to the recycling programs offered in the suburbs where residents place their recyclables in a bin. The recyclables are then collected by separate crews who sort and place them in compartments on a special truck. The remaining garbage is collected by regular crews. Environmental groups and not-for-profit groups support the bin program. They say that separating recyclables prevents contamination. Thus, the recyclables collected are of higher quality and more useful.

To determine attitudes towards recycling and recycling programs, Richard Day Research conducted interviews in June with over 550 Chicago residents served by the Department of Streets and Sanitation (homeowners and residents living in buildings of four or fewer units).

Generally, support for recycling is very strong among Chicago residents (89 percent support a recycling program). Those most supportive and the most likely to recycle are:

younger (under age 50);

upscale (college graduates, incomes over $30,000);

white (living in the northwest and southwest wards); and


Residents less supportive or opposed to recycling and who are least likely to recycle are:

downscale (unemployed, no high school degree, incomes under $20,000);

nonwhites (blacks, Hispanics) living in the predominantly black and Hispanic wards; and

elderly (age 65 and over and retired).

Residents were read brief descriptions of the two programs (bin and bag) and then asked which they preferred and why. The majority (54 percent) of the residents favored the bag program, with 39 percent strongly supportive. Most importantly the bag program elicits support from those least likely to recycle and least supportive of recycling. Moreover, a majority of blacks and Hispanics strongly favor the bag program.

Proponents of the bin tended to be the most concerned about recycling and the environment. They tend to be upscale, white and live in the lakefront and southwest wards. These residents will recycle regardless of the method.

While all politicians need to be loved, they also need opponents so that voters will know where they stand. With the bag program, Daley opponents will be the "Birkenstock crowd" who will recycle anyway. Daley picks up "the average Chicagoan" who is willing to go along will a less fancy, less costly, but effective

36/December 1991/Illinois Issues


In an open-ended format, residents were asked their reasons for favoring the bag program. A majority (51 percent) mentioned that the bag saves money and is more efficient. Also, bag supporters felt it would be more convenient or easier to handle (22 percent), and it would be cleaner or less messy (19 percent).

Among bin supporters, 40 percent favored the program because there was less chance of contaminating the recyclables. Other residents mentioned convenience (22 percent) and efficiency since separation was conducted at pickup (19 percent).

When asked to evaluate a series of pro- and anti-arguments for both programs, residents were more convinced by the bag arguments than the bin. The strongest bag arguments are the cost savings: The bag program means no tax increase (33 percent) and it costs $25 million less than the bin (28 percent). The majority of every subgroup agreed with either of these statements, especially those most supportive of recycling.

Among the bin arguments the most convincing included the likelihood of less contamination (27 percent) and the creation of more jobs (22 percent).

After the series of arguments, residents were again asked which method they favored. Support for the bag increased from 54 percent to 64 percent overall. Thus, twice as many residents favored the bag method over the bin. More importantly, this increase occurs among strong bag supporterss at the expense of strong bin supporters (strong bag supporters increase from 39 percent to 50 percent and strong bin supporters decrease from 34 percent to 25 percent).

The survey results indicate that the bag is the favored program, primarily because of the financial arguments that appeal to tax-sensitive Chicago residents. A likely tax increase with the implementation of the bin program may jeopardize participation. In addition, the bag program is more likely than the bin to draw residents least supportive of recycling and least likely to recycle. These advantages are important to consider since the success of any recycling program in Chicago is contingent upon the level of cooperation generated among residents.

Richard Day has his own survey research firm, Richard Day Research, in Evanston. Myra Tanamor is an associate in the firm.

December 1991/Illinois Issues/37

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