Chicago to roll out food waste bins

Disposal cart.
New York City's food waste collection containers feature a catch to deter rats.
By Marjie Isaacson

Chicago residents soon may have a drop-off option for responsibly disposing of food waste, provided free by the city’s Department of Street and Sanitation.

Food waste sites throughout the city will be a welcome development. Chicago has long been lagging behind many metropolitan areas in addressing the food waste problem. When organic materials are sent to the landfill, they emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Avoiding this result is an important strategy in mitigating the effects of climate change.

In addition, Streets and San is restarting the distribution of backyard compost bins. Composting at home is the most environmentally friendly way of managing organic wastes, but not everyone has the space or desire to do so.

Chicago's food waste collection will start this August or soon in the fall. The first step will establish local drop-off sites in a limited, undetermined area. Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) is on the City Council’s Environmental Protection and Energy Committee and has been lobbying for these improvements to come to his ward, but there is competition for these services and rollout is likely to be aligned with budget availability. Politics and the squeaky wheel effect will be in play.

Finally, Chicago has applied for funding to establish residential collection of food wastes, just like blue carts for recycling. The grant process is competitive, so this option isn’t a sure thing. Other neighboring cities already provide this option, though; Highland Park is the most recent city to roll out new bins for their residents.

If the idea of composting and dealing with food waste elicits a strong “ick” factor for you, reconsider. People who try it are amazed at the transformation of their garbage cans. Waste separation is simple and the right thing to do environmentally and socially. The small amount of time it takes is well worth it.

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