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Edgewater Woman Takes On Landlords Ignoring Recycling Laws

Recycling1Does the building you live in have five or more residential units? Does your building not offer recycling? If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, your building is not complying with the Chicago High Density Residential and Commercial Source Reduction and Recycling Ordinance, a 1993 city ordinance that requires multi-residential building owners, governing associations, and/or condominium boards to provide their residents with an effective recycling program. The city gave these properties until 1995 to institute a recycling program or potentially face daily fines from $25 to $100.

The rationale behind Chicago’s multi-unit recycling ordinance was that multi-residential buildings were already required to arrange garbage pickup. Yet in order to provide recycling services to tenants, landlords in multi-unit buildings must contract with a private recycling hauler, costing extra money on top of the solid waste disposal fees they already pay. Due to this expense, and the infrequency of the ordinance’s enforcement, many multi-residential building owners opt not to provide recycling services to their tenants.

This led Claire Micklin, Ben Wilhelm and Alex Kahn to create MyBuildingDoesntRecycle.com, a website that allows Chicago’s multi-unit renters to report their building as not offering recycling. Micklin, who lives in Edgewater, has been a Chicago resident since 2003 and says she has never had recycling in any of her multi-unit apartment buildings.

Micklin said her hope for the site is that it will move the city to enforce the ordinance. “After that I hope that the city will rewrite the ordinance with stronger language. In order for the city to enforce the recycling law, they need to hire staff that can inspect the buildings to be sure that buildings are in compliance. Cities with more successful recycling programs have staff dedicated to this function. The cities with the most successful recycling programs … are those that enforce their recycling laws,” Micklin said.

Other cities, such as Portland and San Francisco, offer composting and the recycling of clothing, while the lack of enforcement of Chicago’s recycling ordinance leaves some residents unable to recycle even glass and newspaper. “The lack of recycling services to certain Chicago residents is a detriment to the environment for all Illinoisans,” said Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council and Recycling co-chair at Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project. “These services should be universally available and we should start thinking about diverting even more trash through composting services.”

Interestingly, even in buildings that do offer recycling, management may still be in non-compliance with the ordinance, which also requires that a written recycling plan be maintained and made available to residents for every residential building. According to recent coverage in The Chicago Tribune, the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel has stated that the Department of Streets and Sanitation will begin sending letters to residential buildings “that do not appear to have a recycling plan.”

The letter will explain that the law requires them to offer recycling to their residents and will offer a phone number to call with questions.

In the end, Micklin said, “Chicago needs to make it easier for buildings to recycle … there needs to be a system in place that can educate buildings about compliance with the law, help make recycling attractive (perhaps work with private recycling haulers to make recycling cheaper than trash service), and help residents understand how to recycle correctly.”


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