Problem or Issue: Despite Chicago’s claim to be one of America’s most sustainable cities, the city’s recycling rates are abysmal relative to other large, more “sustainable” U.S. cities. This IPRO will examine these problems holistically by focusing on divergence of recycling rates across Chicago (i.e. from more affluent to less affluent neighborhoods), excessive contamination (i.e. throwing garbage and non-recyclable materials in the blue bins), unenforced recycling ordinances for multiunit residences, and the city’s failures in communicating how Chicagoans are supposed to recycle. These problems and more are discussed in a 2015 white paper available here. Chicago’s recycling industry has been relatively static for the last 20 years while thriving in other large cities. Recycling is a crucial element for environmental protection, but from a fiscal standpoint, the City of Chicago is failing to reap any returns from a comprehensive and effective recycling program.
Objective: The goal of the project is to address one or more of the aforementioned problems – or other problems identified by IPRO participants – based on student interest. Success at the end of the semester may be measured by the following: prototyping of informational materials to reduce the divergence in recycling rates across Chicago; prescribing changes to Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation to increase efficiency in the recycling pickup process; using Internet-based techniques to improve public understanding and mobilization (e.g. the My Building Doesn’t Recycle online resource); implementing new recycling strategies at Illinois Tech.
Approach: Students will be engaging in economic, communication, and impact assessments of recycling in Chicago. Details about these methods will be provided by the instructor. Critical stakeholders include haulers, recyclers, and marketers of recycling materials; departments within the City of Chicago, particularly the Department of Streets and Sanitation; advocacy groups such as the Chicago Recycling Coalition and the Chicago Conservation Corps; local institutions that employ cutting-edge recycling strategies such as the Field Museum; and Illinois Tech itself, which now lacks adequate transparency in its recycling practices. Access to these stakeholders will be made available by the instructor.
Instructor Information: Matthew Shapiro is Associate Professor of Political Science at Illinois Tech and has been a Board Member of the Chicago Recycling Coalition since 2012. He has actively participated in the successful campaigning of legislation to reform plastic bag use in Chicago, and he has presented on the topic of recycling at the Sustainability Leadership Training of the Chicago Conservation Corps.