Cook County Buys Recycled

Thanks to Cook County, Ill., Commissioner Mike Quigley, recycling vendors have gained a new billion-dollar customer: Cook County government. In June 2000, the County Board passed a buy-recycled ordinance, written and introduced by Quigley, that offers tangible incentives for the county to purchase recycled-content products such as compost, mulch, cement, asphalt, plastic products, construction aggregates and remanufactured tires.

The 2000 ordinance, which expands a 1993 statute encouraging the county to purchase recycled-content paper, gives a 10 percent price preference to recycled-content products and a 15 percent price preference to paper bleached without chlorine compounds.

“What's cutting edge about this ordinance is that it adds chlorine so significantly and that it goes beyond just paper,” Quigley says. “I think it's the first ordinance that's this comprehensive.”

High-profile municipalities, such as the city of New York, are watching Quigley's progress. Last month, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's office called the Cook County Board to learn more about the program.

Despite this outside interest and accolades from the Chicago Recycling Coalition, the ordinance never was a shoo-in, the commissioner says. Since he introduced the legislation in February, Quigley has answered many concerns about cost and product quality, and some county departments still are hesitant to buy recycled.

But Quigley is confident the skeptics soon will realize that buying recycled makes financial and environmental sense.

Specifically, Quigley refers skeptics to buy-recycled case studies of municipalities such as Alameda County, Calif., where in 1998 the government saved 1.5 percent by purchasing recycled-content goods.

Quigley believes that the price of recycled goods will continue to decrease as more programs such as Alameda's and Cook's create a demand. Making buy-recycled financially viable is “a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he says.

Now that the ordinance has passed, Quigley says his real work has begun. “This is a change that has to be worked on every day. People want to be green, they just don't know how to do it,” Quigley says. Assuring the success of the buy-recycled ordinance means meeting with the government purchasing agent and other officials with purchasing power to explain the options, Quigley adds.

“Look down at your feet,” Quigley tells his employees. “You're standing on a prime example of what buy-recycled can do.” As proof, Quigley points out the recycled material carpet in his office.

This recycling ordinance is by no means Quigley's last environmental effort. A self-proclaimed environmentalist, Quigley plans to introduce nine new ordinances at the next three consecutive board meetings.

“The first round of ordinances will deal with implementing recycling programs in county facilities. Not one of those facilities currently offers recycling opportunities,” Quigley says. “The buy-recycled ordinance is a great start for us, but there is so much more to do.”