Chicago's New Household Chemical & Electronics Recycling Center Opens

This may be "old news," dating back almost two weeks, but since Worldchanging Chicago has just gone live, some rehash of old news is warranted.

The City of Chicago's Household Chemicals & Electronics Recycling Center (HCERC) has officially opened for business. The city has done a good job of having regular drop-off days in various locations around the city for the past several years, but now they are collecting twice a week instead of twice a year. The facility accepts oil-based paints and aerosol paint cans, solvents and paint thinners, used motor oil, gasoline and antifreeze, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides, drain cleaners and cleaning products, pool chemicals, hobby chemicals, and materials containing mercury, household batteries and fluorescent bulbs.

So, Chicagoans now have a regular time and place to drop off hazardous chemicals, old paint, and E-waste. That's great for keeping these materials out of our landfills, but is it really Worldchanging to have somewhere to drop off trash? Pardon the pun, but for the answer to that we'll have to dig a little deeper.

The first thing to look at is the location itself. The new facility is on the former site of an animal incinerator (ICCR Facility ID 170311884, sporting a Basic Envirotech, Inc. Model 1500 Combustor, built in 1983 according to data from the EPA) that used to emit a ton of carbon monoxide and four tons of PM10 annually. This brownfield site in an industrial area on Goose Island, on the North Branch of the Chicago River, was repurposed by CDM with an "emphasis on reuse and environmental friendliness" which included reusing the existing structure, with interior walls constructed from the aluminum siding that used to enclose a portion of the exterior of the building, and incorporating features such as a green roof and bioswales that will help prevent stormwater runoff that could contain potential hazardous pollutants from flowing directly into the Chicago River. Instead of using a new, clean site to build a hazardous waste facility, an old, dirty site gets a little cleaner. Not glamorous, not an amazing (incredibly expensive) reclamation of a toxic site to become a nontoxic park, but sensible, sustainable development of a dirty site into something that isn't quite so dirty anymore.

The environmental benefits of this facility are enough to make the project worthwhile, but the story still gets better. The Center will provide an 11-week training program in electronics recycling for ex-offenders that will help prepare them for jobs in the growing electronics recycling industry, which has recently been spurred on by Gov. Blagojevich's announcement of mandatory e-waste recycling for all state government agencies. Working computers reclaimed through recycling will be donated to schools and low-income families.

And, maybe the most "fun" aspect of the Center: not only can you drop off you old paint, but you can also go there to help yourself to the paint that other people have dropped off.

Lest the readers in the "collar counties" and downstate get jealous of our new recycling center, I should remind you that there are lots of options for getting rid of electronic waste properly in the rest of Cook County, and the rest of the state and the region as well.

(And, of course, when you drop off items to be recycled, you can still get a free roll of blue recycling bags for as long as supplies last or until they finally finish replacing that recycling program with one that works.)