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Every Chicagoan Drafted To Serve As A Soldier In Our ‘Garbage War’

If asked, few Windy City residents would admit they are a bagman or baglady—for obvious reasons.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a bagman as a person who collects money for racketeers. A baglady is defined as a homeless woman, especially in a big city, who carries her possessions in a shopping bag.

However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has now decreed that owners of single-family homes and 2-unit to 4-unit buildings must pay a special $9.50 monthly fee for garbage pickup and recycling. And, owners must recycle according to the strict rules.

It is the obligation of every Chicago resident to both spend time separating their waste and suffer the financial consequences consisting of an annual refuse tax of $114 tacked on to the building’s sewer and water bill.

As a result of this new city tax bite—on top of the huge $588-million real estate tax hike expected to hit in August—every Chicagoan now is officially drafted as a soldier with the lowly rank of bagman or baglady in the Windy City’s “Garbage War.”

Let’s review our marching orders. In January, the “Blue Cart Recycling Collection Notice” was mailed to every Chicago resident. Here is the directive, highlighted with bold-face type:

“Beginning January 1, 2016, all recyclables must be placed in the blue cart loose without a bag. Recyclables contained in bags of any kind will no longer be accepted.”

Mayor Emanuel says this recycling plan—targeted at the more than 500,000 households who are blessed with bi-weekly recycling pickups—will not only help our environment, but also reduce unnecessary costs incurred by the city as a result of “contaminated” blue carts, and generate an estimated $57 million in annual revenue for the city.

To prove that the city’s “Go Bagless” campaign is a direct order coming from City Hall, more than 36,000 blue recycling carts already have been slapped with orange contamination stickers over the past two months, and 23 percent of those citations were issued for continuing to dispose of recyclables in plastic bags.

Now let’s go to Trash Basic Training to arm ourselves for the Garbage War. First, every bagman and baglady must learn to sort their garbage before they fill the cart in the alley or wheel the cart to the curb. And Go Bagless. Please stop gift-wrapping the recyclables in those clean white plastic trash bags. Sounds simple, but this is much more complicated than most people realize.

Only recyclable materials—including metal cans, glass and plastic bottles, aluminum foil, plastic milk and those wax-paper juice containers, junk mail, newspapers, magazines, phone books, cardboard boxes, gift-wrapping paper, cardboard egg cartons—are to be placed “loosely” in the blue cart. Bag People, you absolutely must not bag the recyclables.

Also, the picky blue cart haulers will not accept the following toxic items: fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, batteries, oil-based paint, vinyl, motor oil, broken glass, computer towers and monitors, VHS and cassette tapes, pharmaceuticals and drugs.

For household chemicals and computer recycling, visit the Household Chemicals & Computer Recycling Facility at 1150 N. North Branch St. (two blocks east of the Kennedy Expressway at Division St.) on Goose Island. The facility is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the first Saturday of the month.

Home Depot will recycle your fluorescent bulbs, and Best Buy recycles computers and batteries. Drop your old drugs and pharmaceuticals in the blue cart at your local Chicago police station.

The black cart is the place for food scraps, greasy pizza boxes, potato-chip bags, wet paper towels, napkins, latex paint cans, soiled diapers and dog poop. Also, polystyrene items such as Styrofoam cups, plates, Big Mac cartons, packing peanuts and red Solo cups are to be dumped into the black cart.

Why are homeowners not allowed to bag recyclables they place in the blue carts? It’s because plastic bags hinder the recycling process by:

• Not allowing haulers to see if other non-recyclable materials are in the blue cart;

• Contaminating the stream of otherwise good recycling material;

• Damaging the equipment at sorting facilities.

With the Garbage War heating up, Chicago aldermen have suggested a “pay-as-you-go” system to force more homeowners to recycle. “You would get charged for what you actually put in the garbage and not charged for what you actually recycle,” said 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno.

Imagine what would happen if this wacky suggestion was incorporated in the Garbage War Manifesto? Would garbage haulers spend most of their day weighing garbage or snapping cell phone photos of over-flowing black carts so the city could bill you more than $9.50 a month?

Then, there’s the on-going problem of Garbage Cart Invaders.

These are residents of multi-family rental and condominium buildings in congested neighborhoods such as Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Bucktown and Wicker Park who fly dump in their neighbor’s carts.

Recently, the owner of a 3-flat in Wicker Park stood on his rear porch and watched a resident of the mid-rise condo across the alley walk past her large, private scavenger service dumpster and toss several bags of her garbage in the apartment owner’s black cart.

When the apartment owner protested, the condo owner shouted: “Screw you. Garbage is garbage!” What’s next? Padlocks placed on all of our black and blue city carts?

Another unanswered question: How much revenue does the city retain from annually processing and selling more than 104,000 tons of “purified” metal, glass, plastic and paper garbage via the recycling program now that the “contaminants” have been removed from the blue carts by taxpayer sweat equity?

Why not ask Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, or your alderman?

To sort out garbage questions, the city of Chicago has developed a new blue-cart recycling website. The site includes common misconceptions about recycling, a garbage quiz and additional resources—all to help make recycling easier. Visit

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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