Summer Course in Urban Recycling

Matthew Shapiro, Assistant Professor of political science, will be teaching PS 385, “Practices and Policies of Urban Recycling” in summer 2012. Enroll now!

Chicago touts itself as being “America’s greenest city” but it still falls short of having a recycling infrastructure with lasting and significant effects. This is unfortunate, as there is evidence that even small changes in methods of recycling can yield significant returns. Consider the case of nearby Joliet, Illinois, where the company in charge of city-wide, non-food waste recycling was asked by the city government to pay for new household recycling carts. These carts were larger (now 96 gallons) and could be mechanically lifted by a mechanism attached to the recycling truck. As a result of such relatively simple and cost-effective changes in the methods of recycling, Joliet has seen a forty percent increase in recycling over the last year. Savings for the city are expected to amount to 1.3 million dollars over the next three years.

In this summer class, you will become familiar with the politics and economics of recycling policies in urban areas, focusing on how and why urban recycling policies work. In any discussion of public policies, the overarching concern is whether government intervention is maximally effective given our market-based system. For recycling policies, though, there may be much more at stake: limited landfill space, limited virgin resources, and high costs for both. At the same time, recycling is not without significant costs, both in terms of our wallets (real or virtual in the form of city taxes) and our time and trouble to recycle.

A complete understanding of urban recycling requires that students become familiar with the actors, institutions, and historical foundations of such policies, the concept of sustainability as it is used in policy discourse, analyses economic and political, the connection between public subsidies for recycling programs, and the role such policies play in other urban areas. Although this is a political science course, the economics-based literature is frequently referenced as a tool to determine policy efficacy, both ex ante and ex post.

Students will spend plenty of time outside. A considerable part of the class will involve original research by the student. This involves field research in Chicago with the instructor, applying advanced social scientific methods to assess the nature of recycling in the city and to compare its practices with documented patterns of other American or foreign urban areas. These research methods include ethnographic study, interviews, and surveys with city leaders, select individuals in the existing recycling infrastructure, and Chicago residents. Analyses will be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods, depending on each student’s specific interests.

Course Objectives
This class will enable the student to understand the nature of recycling programs in urban areas. By the end of the semester the student will:
•Possess the ability to conduct research and make policy prescriptions related to urban recycling.
•Understand how recycling policies have evolved in a select group of cities, both in the United States and abroad.
•Apply political and economic theory to problems of recycling policies.
•Challenge concepts of “sustainability” and “development” which are elegant but theoretically deficient.
•Be informed of government efforts to reduce market failures in recycling science and technology.
•Understand at a sophisticated level the connection between waste generation in the developed world and its effects in the developing world, and recognize the need for establish avenues for collective action.

Enroll today!