New recycling campaign encourages Chicagoans to put cartons in blue carts

By Alexandria Johnson

More than 360,000 new Chicago households received blue recycling carts for the first time last year. The city had a successful expansion of its recycling program, but some residents still do not know what can and cannot go in the carts.
More than 360,000 new Chicago households received blue recycling carts for the first time last year. The city had a successful expansion of its recycling program, but some residents still do not know what can and cannot go in the carts.

After expanding its blue-cart recycling program to about 560,000 total homes last year, the city of Chicago has greatly improved its once lackluster recycling program. Last year, the city collected more than 85,000 tons of recycling and is on track to collect more than 100,000 tons of recyclables in 2014.

Yet some residents remain confused about what exactly should go into the blue carts, specifically whether they can recycle cartons that contained milk, juice and other foods and beverages. In order to change the misconception that cartons cannot be recycled, the city launched a new advertising campaign this week in conjunction with the Carton Council, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping cartons out of landfills.

“Many communities say waxed cartons [cannot be recycled], but cartons haven’t been made with wax since the 1970s,” said Kris Kaar, a spokesman for the Carton Council of North America. “We have to go back and remind people that cartons are recyclable.”

The ad campaign features the slogan, “Every carton has a future. Don’t throw it away. Recycle all your cartons today.” Today’s cartons are made from high-grade white fiber, which can be recycled into similar high-grade paper and tissue products, Kaar said.

Molly Poppe, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, said the department often hears from residents who do not where to dispose of cartons. “This really allows us to have a conversation with residents about how cartons are recyclable,” she said.

Poppe added that residents also mistakenly put plastic bags and Styrofoam in the blue carts, which are not recyclable through the program.

She added cartons are growing in popularity for shelf storage amongst retailers and manufacturers, as opposed to glass or plastic containers.

“There’s that kind of desirability of the carton as a product of choice. It is growing in acceptance as recyclable and recoverable,” Kaar said. “We see the future of the carton as a part of the recycling stream.”

Carton Council is advertising in local publications, conducting social media outreach and placing ads on more than 600 CTA trains to encourage residents to recycle cartons in their blue carts. Along with public service announcements, the Carton Council is also offering a sweepstakes where residents can win $250 gift cards to local grocery stories.

Throughout the campaign, the Carton Council will complete a waste and recycling audit. It will examine data to compare what items are recycled and the percentage of recyclables that end up in the blue carts or garbage.

“It’s really important for the city and for the Department of Streets and Sanitation to work with nonprofits that can help us boost our competition in our recycling program,” Poppe said.

Chicago ranks 11th on the U.S. and Canada Green City Index, which measures environmental indicators in nine categories: CO2, energy, land use, buildings, transport, water, waste, air and environmental governance.