Recycling in Chicago: Overview On What and How to Recycle

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Blue recycling bin on beach in Chicago

Did you know that you can recycle paper bags in a blue bin but not plastic ones? Or that #5 plastic is okay but #6 is not? Jeff explains where and how to recycle in Chicago.

When I first started working at Mightybytes we had just become a certified B Corporation. At first, the idea of a B Corporation, a company that has a triple bottom line of people, planet and prosperity, was a little confusing to me. Neither my parents or I had ever worked for a company that prioritized solving social and environmental issues.

But after two years of working here, despite never really thinking about the environment or recycling prior to this, I have definitely seen a change in my behavior in how I think about the environment. The most important change that I have notices is in my desire to recycle.

Chicago Recycling

As some of you may know, recycling scene in Chicago hasn’t always been the greatest over the years. Recycling in Chicago has been confusing at best, and inaccessible at its worst. But it seems like we, as a city, are headed in the right direction. The two websites that helped me find important information about recycling were, the Chicago Recycling Coalition (CRC) and the City of Chicago’s Official Website under “Environment and Sustainability”.

Recycling is more complex than one might think. I’ve always known the basics: that you should recycle glass, aluminum cans and paper. But what I didn’t realize that many more items are accepted and that there are certain restrictions on certain items (i.e. plastic products, which are numbered with a resin identification code). On the CRC and City of Chicago’s websites hundreds of items are listed. For items that are not accepted by the city, the A to Z guide lists alternative places to drop those items off (for example, Goodwill for appliances or Best Buy for cell phones).

Blue Cart Recycling

Whether or not you get blue cart service is determined by the type of building you are in. The city provides recycling to single-family homes, 2-flat, 3-flat or 4-flat buildings. Multi-unit buildings in Chicago are required to provide you with recycling, and they may have different rules about what they can and cannot accept depending on whether they are large or small. Many commercial and retail buildings are required to recycle, too. But if you don’t have blue bin recycling, you can still recycle at City of Chicago Drop-off Center Locations.

Things You Can and Can’t Recycle

When scouring the internet I found a list of all materials that are accepted. There are a few no-brainers in there, but there were a few interesting and important things I found out that Chicago accepts and doesn’t accept.

Things you CAN recycle in blue bins

  • Plastics #1-5, 7
  • Aluminum, including Aerosol cans
  • Cardboard/Brown Paper Bags
  • Paperback Books
  • Glass Bottles and Jars
  • Anything Paper (i.e. Magazines, Newspapers, Notebooks, etc.)

Things you CANNOT recycle in blue bins

  • Plastic #6
  • Used Paper Towels
  • Plastic bags
  • Hard Cover Books
  • Glasses (drinkware and dishes)
  • Batteries, CDs, DVDs, Cell Phones
  • Plastic Silverware

There are a lot of items, such as electronics items, that can be recycled, just not in the blue bins you might find outside your apartment building, or at city drop-off locations. Finally, in Chicago, you don’t have to separate your recycling. Everything can go into the same bin but it can’t be recycled in bags. Even though recycling in Chicago can take a bit of effort, it’s good to know that there are resources out there that can help you figure out where and how to recycle.

Mightybytes is a Chicago-based digital agency and Certified B Corporation. Connect with us on Twitter or get in touch via our contact form.