Following a Better Government Association investigation detailing how Chicago’s residential recycling program is broken and allowing tons of material to be dumped in landfills, the BGA reached out to candidates for mayor about how they would fix the program. Here are the responses we received:

Gery Chico

“We need immediate action and accountability, not only from the Department of Streets & Sanitation, but from the contracted haulers. The city needs complete transparency on this matter; and we need the data to find out why we are above the national average in terms of diversion to landfills. We have already burdened Chicagoans with additional trash collection fees — the last thing with need is to be wasteful with taxpayers’ money as we recycle. This can and should be remedied quickly.”

Bill Daley

“If Chicago’s system isn’t working, then it should be changed.”

Amara Enyia

“Here is another classic example of what happens when things are allowed to sort of run on autopilot and when we don’t actually do a deep dive and the city is not living up to the promises that were made when they started … This recycling issue has been sort of a thorn in the city’s side for quite some time. A lot of it is, we talk about as a city how important it is to be data driven and to make decisions based on data, and this is a classic example of what happens when none of that it’s actually put in place … I think we have responsibility, especially in light of the city’s fiscal challenges, to have the layer of oversight that doesn’t have to rely on the benevolence or honesty of private actors to do right by our citizens.”

Ja’Mal Green

“I don’t think this is a situation where the (Streets and Sanitation) department has been neglecting it. I think that someone knows something and that they’re just getting away with what they’re doing. This has been the constant corruption of the city of Chicago. It’s pay-to-play politics and people benefit off of the city, off of our tax-paying dollars, and there’s no accountability for it.”

Lori Lightfoot

“What this shows to me is that somebody in Streets and (Sanitation) is just utterly, completely asleep at the switch, and it should never have happened. There’s a long and checkered past, unfortunately, regarding recycling efforts going back several decades. I saw the paragraph in your article that shows that our efforts have diminished fairly significantly over the past seven years, and I was, frankly, distressed to see that … It’s one thing to issue a press release and have a news conference and say you’re going to do something but the diligence is required to make sure that there’s actual follow-through. That’s something that’s been grossly lacking, and that’s one of the many, many areas of has to change going forward.”

Neal Sales-Griffin

The discrepancies noted in (the BGA) story reveal — yet again — that the quality of public services rendered in this city varies drastically by zip code … The most egregious thing to me reported in (the BGA) story was that almost 90 percent of the flagged bins were by a single company in three of the six zones. This shows a complete lack of oversight … Ultimately, this is is an example of a poorly designed system that disincentivizes the correct behavior and leaves the city and residents inadequately served. To resolve this, we need to understand how the city’s sanitation teams and SIMS Metal Management/Lakeshore (the other private contractor) were marking and disposing of the waste without an equally high rate of contamination. Waste Management should answer for their behavior and be moved off the contracts if they cannot improve their recycling rates drastically in the near future.

Paul Vallas

“The city’s Inspector General should immediately launch an investigation into this matter to determine whether this was the result of negligence or malfeasance … With Chicago’s pitiful record on recycling well known for years, one would have expected the city (to have) have paid closer attention to the problems posed by Waste Management’s contract performance. The perverse incentives embedded in that contract should also be a wake up call to the city’s procurement department to make certain these types of conflicts of interest do not occur in any outside contracts.”

Willie Wilson

“Perhaps we should consider cancelling the contract with the vendor for poor performance and hire people from the neighborhoods with high violence and high unemployment to do this work. I have made it a part of my platform to call out and resolve the expensive, multibillion-dollar mismanagement of the city of Chicago. This appears to be a fine example of an opportunity to do that.”

Madison Hopkins rejoined the newsroom in April 2023. Before returning, she was the health accountability reporter for The Kansas City Beacon, where she collaborated with ProPublica's Local Reporting Network to investigate Missouri's oversight of sheltered workshops for adults with disabilities.

Originally from Southern California, Madison moved to Chicago to earn her master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She initially joined the Better Government Association in 2016, where she investigated Chicago's recycling program failures, the absence of regulatory enforcement at Illinois nuclear power plants and bureaucratic failures in Chicago's building code enforcement system that contributed to dozens of fatal fires.