Recycling in Chicago apartments, condos and businesses

 If you live in or manage an apartment (or condominium building) with more than 4 units, this affects you. 

Chicago's new and improved Recycling Ordinance went into effect on January 1,  2017. Aimed at businesses, apartments, and condos that still aren't recycling, the amendments provide the City with more teeth to nudge buildings into compliance.  

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Note:  The City provides recycling services to apartment and condominiums that have four units or less.  Building owners are responsible for contracting private recycling services for buildings with five or more units. 

What's New in the Ordinance?

Chicago's first recycling ordinance requiring "high-density" condominiums and apartments to recycle went into effect in 1995. The new ordinance brings the 20-year-old law in line with contemporary recycling standards, clarifies landlord responsibilities, and provides the city with increased enforcement capabilities. 

Here's the lowdown on the key changes: 

1.)   Broader list of materials that need to be recycled

The new ordinance mandates that over a dozen different materials be collected for recycling. Basically, your buildings recycling program should be pretty similar to the City's current Blue Cart program

Recyclable items (empty and dry):
paper & cardboard: junk mail, office mail, magazines, paper bags, cartons, boxes (flattened)
plastic: bottles and containers (no styrofoam)
metal: steel and aluminum cans, foil trays, empty aerosol cans (make sure aerosols are completely empty)
glass: bottles and jars only (no glassware, plates, ceramics)  

2.)  Collection Method

Recyclables are now required to source-separated. That means recyclables need to be collected in their own container, separate from trash. Previously, source separation was "preferred", now it's a must-have. 

The City's residential Chicago's Blue Cart also provides source-separated, single-stream recycling to over 600,000 households.  

3.)  Tenant Education 

Buildings are required to provide ongoing education and the new ordinance more clearly defines what that entails. Beyond detailed signage, tenants must receive written notice about the changes and "instructions on how to properly prepare materials for recycling". There are other stipulations as well, read the full ordinance here

4.) Stiffer Fines 

Fines for noncompliance range from $500 up to $5000  for recurring offenses.  The previous ordinance capped fines at $100 per day. Each day that a building remains in violation is considered "a separate, distinct offense to which a separate fine shall apply".   

Buildings will be given a 30-day warning period to become compliant but after that fines will add up quickly.

Is your building skirting the law?

If your building still isn't providing recycling or is collecting recyclables with the trash to be sorted later,  then they're not compliant with the new ordinance.

•  Remind your landlord about the new rules and hefty new fines. Send them a link to this post or slip them the City's flier and see if that sparks them into action.  Remember, recycling has been legally required in apartments and buildings since 1995 so there's really no excuse. 

•  Report your building. The City is encouraging residents to report buildings that aren't living up to the new ordinance by calling 3-1-1. The City uses 311 reports to prioritize on-site inspections. 

Tips for Landlords

It's go-time. If you're not offering source separated, single-stream recycling, it's time to take action.  

1.) Be informed

Know what's required under the new ordinance. The City has provided this flier for building owners and managers, and the new ordinance can be downloaded here

2.)  Pick up the phone

Call your current waste hauler and ask them about their recycling services. The new ordinance requires that private waste haulers provide source-separated recycling services for their customers. They may offer the service through a third party, but they are required to hook you up. 

3.)  Shop around 

You can hire a separate company for your recycling, you're not required to use your current waste hauler. Call a couple and see who's services, pick-up times, and prices provide the best solution for your complex.

4.)  Ask these questions

Before you contract for service, the City recommends asking these questions: 

 • What services will be included?
• Do they provide single-stream recycling collection?
• What is the schedule for collection?
• Will they provide educational material for distribution?
• What size container can they provide?
• Do they require the recyclables to be loose, not bagged, in the recycling container?

Building owners and managers with questions about the ordinance should call the City at (312) 744-2413 for assistance. 



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