Trash Collection in the City of Chicago
By Claire Redden and Veronica Stanoulov
Sanitation truck going through streets of Pilsen (only occurs once every three weeks). Photo by Claire Redden.
To live and work in a neighborhood littered with trash is an everyday reality for thousands of residents in the many Chicago neighborhoods.
Litter has impacts on individuals and cities as a whole. Poor sanitation makes areas seem run down and poorly maintained. Ultimately, the high levels of litter reinforce feelings of not being responsible for public spaces, such as streets and parks, which affect the overall city.
“The negative impact of chronic littering on the character of our City neighborhoods is tremendous, and the changes put forth in this amended ordinance send a powerful message that we will not tolerate this completely unnecessary and careless act,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement in 2013 when discussing litter laws.
The City of Chicago Council introduced new littering laws in 2013 that quadrupled the minimum fine for littering from $50 to $200, and increased the maximum tenfold from $150 to $1,500. Littering has become a problem in the city’s lower income neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, the fine hike has not been effective in deterring littering due to the lack of reinforcement. Illinois state police say there have been very few citations that have been written by for the sole reason that they must see an offense being performed in order to ticket someone for it.
As of 2016, the city of Chicago had implemented a waste removal fee of $9.50. Despite the $54.4 million revenue generated, it is not sufficient in covering the full cost of garbage removal according to the Civic Federation. The budget estimates for FY2018 and FY2019 continued to project the garbage fee would generate $61.2 million both years.
“Chicago Trash” Google Trends search over the past five years.
Although the city of Chicago had committed to not increasing the removal fee until 2019, the Civic Federation suggests that the city of Chicago should evaluate the fee annually since it has a direct correlation on the services provided.
While there isn’t immediate change in costs and services provided, sanitation and trash collection is an area the city is focusing on reforming. With increased costs of sanitation, better services will be provided. However, these increased costs have hidden consequences for the unity of the city.
Generally, lower-income neighborhoods, typically home of the city’s minority communities, receive less sanitation control and trash collection due to less funds being available.
Chicago is divided into eight different districts for trash collection. The grid system for the eight districts reduces the number of trucks, crews, and fuel used. As a whole, the grid system saves the city approximately $18 million annually. Although the grid system is effective in saving the city money, it segregates the city and the feeling of unity of Chicago.
With the separate districts, there are different resources and funding available depending on the district. Generally, in predominantly white ethnicity areas, the cost of living is higher. Resources, such as sanitation, public safety, etc. are considered better in areas with more funding available.
“The majority of people are white and wealthy in Lincoln Park. You often don’t see homeless or different races inhabit the area… Lincoln Park is very clean and has a good system in place for trash collection,” Velasquez said.
Streets of Lincoln Park free of trash. Photo by David Pilsen via flickr.
According to a survey performed by The New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation (2016), when analyzing the differences in life styles for different ethnic groups, the majority of results were complete opposites depending on the race and where the individual resided.
There are notably different perceptions on city services, such as trash collection, noted in this survey conducted by the Washington Post.
“White and blacks in Chicago are living in two totally different cities,” said Emily Badger when analyzing the differences in opinions of blacks vs. whites in the city of Chicago in a story for the New York Times. Race and ethnicity play a role in city sanitation since more funding is available in certain areas. In poorer areas where funding is not available, there is a direct correlation of crime, use for public spaces/recreational use, schooling, etc.
While getting first-hand experience by walking down 18th Street, Pilsen’s commercial center had very few trash cans for individuals to dispose of their waste. This gives visitors and residents little reason to properly throw out their scraps in designated areas. Thus, leaving the neighborhood’s main street dusted with candy wrappers, chip bags, and plastic bottles.
Litter on 18th street (Pilsen, Chicago). Photo by Claire Redden.
Samantha Cunliffe, a Pilsen resident, said that, “Sometimes [trash collectors] don’t come for weeks and our trash overflows. When that happens, bags get left next to the cans and things get blown away.” Below is a map of the trash cans on 18th street:
Pilsen trash can map focus (fewer trash cans per block compared to Lincoln Park).
According the City of Chicago, people litter for four reasons:
- People litter because they do not feel responsible for public areas like streets and parks. The more they litter, the more it becomes a habit, and the worse the community looks.
- People usually litter outside their own neighborhood where their trash becomes someone else’s problem.
- People litter because they believe someone else — a maintenance worker or responsible neighbor — will pick up after them.
- Once litter starts to pile up, people feel even less responsible for adding to the litter. If an area is clean, people are less likely to litter.
According to Statistical Atlas, the data on Lincoln Park shows that it is primarily an ethnically white neighborhood. Trash collection is generally high due to higher quality expectations of living standards and more funds being available through higher cost of living.
When walking around neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park trash collection is the complete opposite. There is hardly any litter that crowds the streets. To compare the map of trash cans in Pilsen, below is a map of trash cans in the Lincoln Park area:
Lincoln Park trash can map (greater trash cans per block).
When it comes to recycling, Chicago programs have little to no organization. Individuals that live in residential buildings are instructed to leave their recyclables in a blue cart by their trash to be picked up every week. However, in lower-income neighborhoods, such as Pilsen, the pickup schedule has been slowed to once every three weeks.
When asked about recycling, Cunliffe mentioned that “…the recycling bins in my alley are almost always full.”
However, some areas don’t have blue carts for recyclable items. If this is the case, people are told to take their recyclables to one of the city’s two drop off centers; although these drop off centers are often overflowing. Below is a map of Chicago’s recycling drop off centers:
Paul Jones, a four-year employee for a sanitation department, said his job has changed over the years. Paul told us that, “When I was originally hired, the company was called Earth First until it was bought out by Advanced Disposal. So it basically went from an LLC to a corporation. It affected me because I primarily do commercial recycle.”
When asked whether there were differences depending on the area, Paul responded that ,“There are differences depending on the neighborhood that we are in. Some neighborhoods are more tedious and require extra steps, like going to speak to someone to sign off before removing trash. Then there are neighborhoods where you don’t have to speak to anyone, you just go get the trash.”
According to Jones, he and his coworkers work up to 15 hours a day to keep the city trash free. Jones quotes, “We wake up at 3 a.m., and work until 3 p.m., The purpose is to get most work done before morning commuters get up and to continue the work until 3 p.m.. before the 9 to 5 workers get off their shift.”
Jones notes that if they don’t get the work done by then, they stay until the work is complete. Jones says, “I’ve had to stay until 6 p.m. some nights. That’s a 15-hour work day. We just have to work efficiently and smart.” the areas deep in the city need the most attention. He says that, “Primarily, areas in the deep city are the ones that need the most attention.”
Despite all these discrepancies and difficulties to keep the streets clean, Pilsen residents have made efforts to clean up their streets. In fact, the city of Pilsen was recently named one of the “Coolest Neighborhoods in the World” by Forbes Magazine due to its rich history that individuals have the desire to protect.
Locals at the Pilsen Community Market, as well as The Greater Pilsen Economic Development Association (GPEDA), organize litter cleanups in the Fall to clean the streets before the snow begins. Pilsen serves as an example of an area whose residents have, throughout history, stood through the struggles of bringing up the neighborhood.
Artistic mural in Pilsen ruined by trash covering ground. Photo by Claire Redden.
Tips from the GPEDA to help keep areas like Pilsen clean:
- Keep a bag in your car where you can put your litter in and throw into a trash can.
- Close all lids on garbage cans so trash doesn’t spill out into the alley or street.
- Talk to your family and friends and encourage them not to litter.
- Be an example and simply don’t litter.
- Remove flyers and sales papers from your front door and dispose in trash can before it becomes litter.