Chicago Receives 130 Complaints about Buildings without Recycling Options

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Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) has received 130 complaints so far about residential and commercial high-rise buildings not complying with a new city recycling requirement since it took effect on Jan. 1, as reported by the Chicago Sun Times.

City inspectors will now visit each site to verify the claims and give property owners a warning to comply within 30 days. After that, penalties for the first violation could be up to $1,000 and the second violation within one year could cost up to $2,500. Any after that could cost up to $5,000 within one year of the most recent violation.

Because these penalties can compound on a daily basis, the Chicago Association of Realtors has called them “unduly onerous” and is unhappy with the system. DSS has repeatedly said that the intent is to work with property owners rather than penalize them.

Chicago has had a high-rise recycling requirement since 1993, but it was rarely enforced and DSS has issued less than 200 violations in the past 10 years. Last summer, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel decided to push for a change as part of a lager citywide recycling update and ran up against powerful real estate interests. While the 30-day warning period was added as a compromise, they are still not happy with the new ordinance.

In addition to arranging for collection in these high-rise residential and office buildings, landlords are also expected to educate tenants about the city’s single-stream recycling requirements. This policy is similar to a recent update to Delaware’s statewide recycling regulations around multi-unit buildings, though in this case the expectation is that landlords will be responsible for the change rather than haulers. The focus on multi-unit buildings is not unique and a number of other cities have also been targeting them in efforts to improve their diversion rates.

Once property owners can get past these initial logistical challenges they have the potential to help improve the city’s recycling system for years to come. Because some younger residents have grown up living or working in buildings without recycling it isn’t a part of their daily routine and that is seen as one of many factors in Chicago’s low diversion rates. Poor participation and high contamination have become such an issue that DSS recently decided to simplify its recycling requirements in some neighborhoods to stabilize the program.