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Chicago Recycling Ordinance - A Manager's Review

Starting in 2017 all condo associations in Chicago must have recycling services at their building. Failing to have recycling services active by 1/1/17 will expose the association to potential fines from the City.

This new requirement is part of the Chicago Recycling Ordinance that was recently passed by the Chicago City Council. The ordinance goes into effect on January 1, 2017, and requires all commercial and multi-unit residential buildings to provide "source-separated, single stream recycling for residents." This simply means that all associations must purchase standard recycling services from a waste management provider. Obviously this is great news for the waste management companies in Chicago.

At a high level the ordinance requires associations to perform the following:

  1. Engage in source-separated recycling
  2. Equip interior and exterior common areas with sufficient recycling containers
  3. Post and maintain signs notifying residents that recycling is required
  4. Implement an ongoing education program to educate residents about the recycling program

The city may fine associations between $50.00 and $100.00 per offense for failing to comply with the ordinance. According to the ordinance, each day that a violation continues shall constitute a separate offense. Fines can mount quickly.

Property Manager Feedback

This new law is obviously great news to the waste companies that service Chicago. Only time will tell if the city actively enforces the new law, but due to the amounts of the potential fines, I would not recommend waiting to find out. The law does not give associations much time to get these services in place so you should get started asap.

If recycling services are already being provided to your association, no action is required. If recycling is not currently used at your building, recycling should be added to your current waste management contract. Pretty simple.

The law does not specify the number or size of recycling bins that must be purchased. Due to this, I would recommend signing up for the most basic service available through your current waste management provider. This will allow your association to meet the criteria of the ordinance while minimizing additional costs. Additional recycling bins can be added later if the quantity of recyclable materials produced by your association requires an increase.

It should be noted that waste management companies charge hefty penalties if owners discard non-recyclable materials in the recycling containers. Put simply, if the company finds non-recyclable materials in the recycling bin(s), they will dump the full contents of the "infected" recycling bin into the normal waste stream and charge the association accordingly. Due to this it is very important that owners do not place normal garbage in the recycling bins. There are no equivalent penalties for placing potentially recyclable materials into the normal waste containers.

We have contacted most waste providers that service Chicago and have found that the minimum recycling option offered by most carriers is to add one (1) 95 gallon recycling container to be serviced weekly. The fees range from $25 to $45 per month for this service, depending on carrier.

Signs and Education

The ordinance requires signs to be posted that specify that recycling is a legal requirement and provide details about the types of materials that should be recycled. Based upon our conversations with waste carriers that service Chicago, some report that the stickers that are attached to their recycling containers meet the criteria of the ordinance. Nearly half of the carriers were unaware of the sign requirement. At this point we must assume that the carrier-provided stickers will meet the legal requirement.

The law also requires buildings to institute an ongoing recycling education program. As common with many city ordinances, few specifics are provided. A few of the waste companies that we spoke to have brochures available in pdf format designed to meet this requirement. Boards should ask their waste provider for a recycling overview document that they can send to the residents. This should be documented to prove compliance with the education portion of the act.

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