City's Blue Cart Recycling Program Gets Greener With New Initiatives Aimed At Increasing Participation And Decreasing Contamination

November 25, 2016

Blue Cart Recycling Promotes Healthy Environment; Reduces City's Disposal Costs

CHICAGO - The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) today announced that it is rolling out three new strategies to boost recycling participation and reduce contamination for Chicago's Blue Cart Residential Recycling Program. Efforts include two public education pilot programs, as well as a recent series of roundtable events exploring recycling barriers and strategies to address barriers. 

"As part of the City's commitment to sustainability, we are always looking to evolve and improve the Blue Cart Residential Recycling Program," said Commissioner Charles L. Williams, Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.  "We want to do whatever we can to make recycling easy for residents, and we hope that by taking a closer look at some habits in human behavior, we can identify ways to make regular recycling a part of everyone's daily routine." 

Under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, DSS completed the roll out of the Residential Blue Cart Recycling Program in the fall of 2013.  The City of Chicago currently provides biweekly, single stream recycling to approximately 600,000 households. 

Blue cart residential recycling not only promote a healthy environment, but also promotes the City's fiscal health.  In 2015, the City of Chicago sent 856,125 tons of refuse to the landfill while approximately 95,950 tons of recycling was diverted and recycled, reducing disposal costs by $4.2 million. 

Household Recycling Blue Cart Buddy Pilot

DSS is launching two pilot initiatives in the coming weeks to address both contamination and participation.  First, over the next two weeks, 5,000 households on the west and northwest sides will receive a new reusable bag or "Blue Cart Buddy" designed to help make the Blue Cart Recycling Program easier and more effective. 

The Blue Cart Buddy is a reusable plastic blue bag that should be used as a recycling receptacle within the home. Residents are asked to keep the Buddy next to their garbage can to use for recyclables.  The graphics on the Buddy even provide helpful hints about what goes in the bag, and what should stay out of the recycling stream.  Residents are asked to regularly empty recyclables into their blue cart and reuse the Buddy from week to week.  The Buddy, developed through a collaboration between DSS, the City's Behavioral Design Team housed in the office of the Mayor, and the non-profit organization ideas42, draws on insights from behavioral science to reduce contamination in Blue carts. 

Outreach and Education Materials Pilot

DSS will also work with Waste Management to test new recycling education materials in a sample area on Chicago's southeast side.  The goal of the pilot will be to perform an in-depth recycling stream analysis and determine steps to improve residential participation levels in the Blue Cart Recycling Program.  As part of the pilot, there will be recycling audits that will be performed at Waste Management's material recycling facility.  The audit results will help determine how to improve the communication to residents on the Blue Cart Recycling Program, thereby reducing contamination and increasing participation. 

Chicago Sustainability Leaders network (CSLN)

DSS also recently partnered with Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) which is a group of more than 100 organizations and individuals working to promote sustainability throughout Chicago at the neighborhood level. 

Together, DSS and CSLN hosted three regional meetings comprised of CSLN members and other community sustainability leaders to create a framework of possible education and awareness solutions around the issue of contamination.  Attendees examined regional barriers to recycling and brainstormed potential program solutions, ranging from new educational materials, incentive programs and advertising.  CSLN will compile the ideas resulting from each meeting into a formal recommendation for the City of Chicago that will include comprehensive, region-specific solutions which will assist in formulating public outreach and education campaigns. 

Residents who are interested in learning more about our Blue Cart Recycling pilot programs can call 311 or visit

About the Chicago Behavioral Design Team and ideas42

The City of Chicago Mayor's Office has partnered with ideas42--a NYC based non-profit behavioral design lab--to launch the Chicago Behavioral Design Team (BDT).  The Chicago BDT applies behavioral insights to new and existing programs and processes across city government.  The BDT work is funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation. 

ideas42 ( is a leading behavioral science organization that uses scientific insights from psychology and economics to help people make better choices for themselves and for society.  ideas42's mission is to use its unique experience as a nonprofit at the forefront of behavioral science to change millions of lives.  It has designed low-cost, scalable solutions to achieve significant impact, including:  increased college retention among at-risk freshman, reduced water consumption among high-consumption households, and increased savings among low-income households.