553.3 Conservation, recycling, waste management

CHICAGO–Glass bottles, plastic bottles. Beer bottles, soda bottles, energy drink bottles, milk bottles. Bottles, but not so many cans. Why? Because Illinois has no bottle bill. At least that’s my assessment of the situation, judging by the fact that aluminum cans, for which you can receive a pittance, are somewhat harder to come by, even in places where it seems the garbage has completely obscured the pavement. With a bottle bill, you’d be able to take all your empties, be they green, brown, clear or even blue, to the redemption center and get enough change for, say, another bottle of beer.

I took a bike ride this afternoon, starting at Augusta and Paulina and heading south, cutting over to Ashland at Lake, then taking Ashland down to 33rd St. Then I looked ahead of me and realized just how big Chicago is. I realized, too, that I didn’t have the time or the energy to cross 100 more streets. Ultimately, I gave up and turned around. You would have thought I would have hit the mother lode somewhere along my route, especially after I headed west on 33rd until I hit Western and pointed my front tire northward.

A bridge just before 31st St. yielded a few items to stash in my backpack, and a bus stop across from the White Castle (at Western and Jackson, I think) helped increase my take, but no great shakes. Had I been able to retrieve the beer bottles glinting in the late afternoon sun, I might have just been able to cover the cost of the flat tire I incurred a few moments later. But as much of a do-gooder as I am, there’s just no money in it. I could collect them all and eventually redeem them in Iowa or Michigan, but my wife would kill me. She can barely stand me collecting all these cans of . . .

1. Tecate
2. Modelo
3. Busch
4. Icehouse
5. Coke
6. RC
7. Arizona Iced Tea
8. Heineken
9. Miller
10. Budweiser

. . . and much, much more. And who can blame her? I collect them all week, drop them off at the redemption center at Chicago and Grand on Monday morning, and get at most a couple of bucks. The Chicago and Grand facility (which has an impressive collection of beer cans lining one window) and others like it pay 50 cents for a pound of aluminum. That’s about 33 cans. I went out of my way to find some of the filthiest streets I could think of, and still I think I just barely cracked that magic number in my 2.5-hour journey.

I did some armchair research this weekend on the campaign to give Illinois a bottle bill. There are quite a few groups pushing for it, and at least one pushing against it. Four years ago, the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County published a white paper called “Why a Bottle Bill is Bad for Illinois.” Among the reasons they cite, one caught my attention before my little jaunt, and much more so afterward: “Removing the valuable commodities from our curbside programs will increase costs of the curbside program dramatically.” My simple eyeball examination of Chicago neighborhoods from West Town to Pilsen indicates there are some places where there is no recycling going on at all, curbside or otherwise. If a bottle lying on the ground was like free money, it might entice someone to pick it up.