A Lot of Chicago Recycling Isn't Getting Recycled: Report

Depending on where you live, the items you put out for recycling may sometimes be dumped in a landfill, according to an investigation by the Better Government Association.

You do all that work every day to recycle: Rinsing out jars; separating paper and plastic; dragging your bins to the curb. But -- depending on where you live -- it could be in vain.

A new investigation by NBC 5 Investigates’ reporting partner, the Better Government Association, reveals that more than half a million bins in Chicago have instead been dumped into landfills, just in the past 4-1/2 years. That’s enough recyclables-turned-trash to fill up Wrigley Field -- and then some.

Much of the problem stems from a city rule that says that one plastic bag or food item can cause all of the perfectly-recyclable material in that bin to be labelled as “grossly contaminated,” which requires waste-haulers to dump it all into a landfill.

The BGA found that the company that most often labels a bin “contaminated” – Waste Management – then sometimes gets paid twice for those “contaminated” bins: Once for picking up your recycling at the curb, and then again, after it’s labeled as contaminated, when it gets dumped in the company’s for-profit landfill.

This is all happening at the same time that Chicago ranks as the worst major city in the nation for residential recycling rates – and long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised big improvements to the city’s recycling program, back in 2011.

To find out how likely it is that your recycling is ending up in landfills instead, check out the BGA’s complete investigation, “Recycling in Chicago.” You can also search the BGA’s “Contamination Map,” and follow a single plastic water bottle as it makes its way to a recycling center – or a landfill.

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