Chicago aldermen call for better enforcement of recycling rules for big buildings

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John Byrne, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read
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Chicago’s government watchdog on Wednesday highlighted failures by the city to monitor and enforce its recycling program for bigger buildings across the city.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson told a joint City Council committee that enforcement of the ordinance is spotty at best, with ward superintendents only occasionally checking that buildings follow the rules and don’t centralize the results of those investigations.

Ferguson’s office reported in December that the city Department of Streets and Sanitation was not enforcing recycling rules that took effect in 2017 requiring commercial properties and apartments and condominiums with more than four units to provide their own recycling services.

Nearly 500,000 units, about 41% of Chicago’s total, are in buildings with at least five units, Ferguson said.

After decades of attempts to improve Chicago’s abysmal recycling rates, Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, said council members are fed up with continued failures to even enforce existing rules.

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“The frustrations are real for me and many of my colleagues,” said Cardenas, who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee.

Chris Sauve, Streets and Sanitation deputy commissioner, said the department is making strides to address Ferguson’s critique.

And downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, said if the city is serious about tracking, inspecting and auditing the building recycling compliance, officials will need to get serious about hiring enough inspectors to do it. “To conduct inspections, you need people,” he said.

Chicago recycling has had low participation since Mayor Richard M. Daley told Chicagoans to put their recyclables in blue garbage bags for pickup starting in the mid-1990s. Daley scrapped the blue bags in 2008 because of low participation and exaggeration by city officials about the program’s effectiveness.

City officials said then that suburban-style blue cart recycling would be in place at residences across the city by 2011. That wasn’t the case, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel expanded the recycling program using private haulers, but participation remains low.

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