The State of Recycling In Illinois

Across the United States, our recycling system is faltering. Local governments from Jackson, Mississippi to Sierra Vista, Arizona are ending their curbside recycling programs. Many other municipalities have reduced the list of materials they will accept.  Even when recycling does end up in a blue bin, it may be immediately landfilled or burned --until earlier this year roughly half of Philadelphia's collected recycling was being sent to incinerators.  These are not isolated incidents but are increasingly our new normal. What went wrong? Why are we moving backwards on recycling, an important tool for fighting environmental pollution and climate change? And why is plastic to blame?

Report

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Across the United States, our recycling system is faltering. Local governments from Jackson, Mississippi to Sierra Vista, Arizona are ending their curbside recycling programs. Many other municipalities have reduced the list of materials they will accept.  Even when recycling does end up in a blue bin, it may be immediately landfilled or burned –until earlier this year roughly half of Philadelphia’s collected recycling was being sent to incinerators.  These are not isolated incidents but are increasingly our new normal. What went wrong? Why are we moving backwards on recycling, an important tool for fighting environmental pollution and climate change? And why is plastic to blame?

Illinois does not collect statewide recycling data , but municipal data gathered from across the state indicate that Illinois’ recycling rate remains low. In particular, Chicago’s recycling rate is much lower than other U.S. cities at 8.8% in 2018. Suburban Cook County surrounding Chicago has a higher recycling rate, but 19% is still far below the national 2015 average of 25.8%. Outside of Cook County, DuPage County and Naperville performed above average, the latter reaching a 29% recycling rate in 2018.

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