Chicago lags behind other major American cities in recycling. And now, in what local politicians are calling an “embarrassment” and “colossal waste of money,” it seems the Windy City has wasted about $1 million on unused blue recycling bins. The Chicago-Sun Times reports that about 22,000 recycling bins sit untouched in a Far South Side warehouse. The bins were purchased by the city for a new curbside recycling program that was to be implementing in 2011 — before the city ran out of money for the plan.

In 1995, Chicago implemented a blue bag recycling program in which willing participants purchased blue bags to handle recycling. Blue bags separate recycling into lawn refuse, paper, plastic and glass. The city claimed that as much as 25 percent of its waste was diverted through recycling, but estimates later showed that only 9 percent of recyclables were ever picked up, leading to the abandonment of the program in 2008. Then city hall declared that the city would switch to curbside recycling by the end of 2011. However, this declaration fell short when the program ran out of money about a third of the way through.

The city estimates that about 22,000 bins sit unused — though eyewitnesses claim the number is far higher. This has proved to be a major embarrassment for the city. As Alderman Joe Moore told the Chicago Sun-Times, "The fact that they have all these blue carts in storage is just an indictment of the city's failure to live up to its commitment to bring recycling to two-thirds of the city." Moore wants the city to keep its promises and revitalize the program.

Others disagree. Alderman Tom Allen blames the recession for the lack of funds, assuming that the bins were bought in bulk at the cheapest price. He is, however, critical of the program, claiming that it illustrates how diverse parts of the city are treated differently. As Allen told the Sun-Times, "Having the carts is the cheap part of the equation. The real sore point is that we are treating citizens in different regions of the city unequally. We have to find a way to get this done. If we can't, we should just repeal the program and go back to do-it-yourself recycling."

In the meantime, the city is exploring the possibility of privatizing recycling to save money.

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