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Got green guilt?

They want to help the planet—seriously, they do—but some Chicagoans find living the eco life is more trouble than it's worth

  • Chicago blue bins
Chicago blue bins (Chicago Tribune file )
September 16, 2012|By Mick Swasko, @mickswasko | RedEye

Turn off that light; it's wasting energy.

Do you really have to drive?

You remembered to separate the organics for the compost bin, didn't you?

Even with an ever-growing chorus of tipsters giving such advice in everyday life and pop culture, it's not easy being green.

Max Boeh of Lakeview says he has trouble keeping up. The 23-year-old does his best to live green, but sometimes he falls short—particularly when it comes to recycling. He has been known to toss plastics and other reusable items out with the rest of the garbage. And he's not 100 percent sure the bin his landlord designated for recycling is even being used for that purpose. He doesn't have a blue recycling cart from the city.

"I feel kind of bad about it, I just don't have easy access to [recycling]," he said.

Boeh is just one of many Americans who will admit to green guilt. While his thing is recycling, there are a host of eco-friendly activities Americans feel ashamed about neglecting, according to a recent survey by the Shelton Group, a marketing firm that focuses on sustainability and energy efficiency issues. Thirty-nine percent of those polled said they feel guilty about wasting food, with other issues such as leaving the lights on, wasting water and not recycling ranking in the Top 5 on a list of the country's eco-regrets.

Jessica Villalobos, 29, of Edison Park, has two children and finds herself without the time to separate her recyclables from the trash. On top of that, her neighborhood isn't part of the city's blue cart program, which means her recyclables aren't picked up by city workers or private contractors. Instead, she has to take them to one of 37 collection sites throughout the city, something she said is low on her priority list.

"If we had the blue bins here I am 100 percent sure we would be [recycling]," she said.

The blue cart program, which began testing in 2005, is expected to reach all neighborhoods in the city by the end of 2013, according to Chris Sauve, program director for recycling in the Department of Streets and Sanitation. Currently, about 260,000 households have the blue carts, of about 600,000 households total. In 2011, 54,554 tons of recycling was collected, or about 13.5 percent of all trash collected in the city. In 2010, 13.4 percent of all trash was recyclables.

"We've seen a pretty good reaction actually," Sauve said of expansions that happened earlier this year, one of which was on the West Side. "Folks were very happy that the program was rolling out to their neighborhood."

Still, some say they are in the dark about their options for recycling.

"I think it's ... a matter of making [information] easily accessible to people," Boeh said. When he moved to Chicago, Boeh said, he heard about his recycling options from his landlord. He said he would like to see the city get involved and perhaps send fliers or letters to new residents to inform them of their options. The city maintains as a repository for all things recycling. For Boeh, it's not enough. "You've got to step outside the box and catch people's attention with something they are not used to seeing."

Not being diligent about recycling isn't the only thing Toby Greenwalt, 32, of Portage Park, feels guilty about.

"I'd like to say I'd consider myself environmentally conscious, if not always in practice, definitely in awareness," he said. "At the same time I'm kind of lazy. It's kind of hard to always take my beliefs and put them into practice."

Not only does he let the recycling pile up in his garage only to throw it out, he said he feels bad about driving short distances as opposed to taking the CTA. Additionally, he said he has thought about building a compost pile for food waste, but he has delayed it because of the initial investment and time constraints. Still, he's improved his home to become more energy efficient, and installed a smart water meter to track his water use.

"I'd like to participate more, but I have a lot of stuff on my plate," said Greenwalt, who has a young child.

That's a sentiment shared by Villalobos.

"I wish I could do anything and everything I could possibly do to keep the environment at its cleanest," she said. "But it's pretty hard."


Want to shed the green guilt? In the dark about how to go a little easier on Mother Nature in Chicago? Here's a quick guide to some city services and programs you might not know about.

Multi-Unit Recycling: In Chicago, buildings with five or more separate units are considered "multi-unit" structures, and they have their own rules for recycling. If you live in a larger building or high-rise, you should still be able to recycle. City code requires building owners or condo associations to provide a written recycling plan to all residents and annually update them about how to participate in the plan. New residents must also be informed of the plan upon moving in, and all tenants must be informed of any changes 10 days before they happen.

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