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A Bag of Trash

Collecting garbage in Chicagoland is a busy job. Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation’s truck drivers stop at 600,000 households every single week to pick up residential trash. More than one million tons of garbage and recyclables are collected annually.

That’s a lot of garbage.

So if you put your trash bags in your recycling bin, Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) garbage truck drivers will simply leave the entire bin’s contents. The same is true if you put your loose recycling into your trash bin.

The city does not sort your garbage, and if it’s obvious a bag or single stream recycling is in the wrong bin, they’ll simply ignore the entire bin. They may place an “oops” tag on your recycling bin if they notice you’ve thrown trash into the blue bin.

If you’re unfamiliar with the trash guidelines in Chicago, you risk having your garbage bins ignored or even getting fined by the city. Here are some questions with helpful answers to make sure your trash gets collected and your money stays where it belongs.

FAQ: How much trash and recycling will the city collect from my house each week?

The city of Chicago offers weekly pick up of your 96-gallon black super cart with the regular trash. This applies to all single-family homes and multi-unit buildings with four or fewer units. Five units or greater are serviced by a private waste hauler for both trash and recycling.

They’ll pick up your 96-gallon blue super cart every other week.

Garbage and Recycling Bins

When it comes to yard waste, the city’s Yard Waste Program lets you call 311 to request a free collection. Put your waste in a plastic or paper bag, make the call, and it will be picked up. Year-round. Additional crews for seasonal Yard Waste Drives are hired to deal with the extra demand.

FAQ: My teenage son accidentally drove over our black garbage cart — can I get a new one?

Yes. The Department of Streets and Sanitation has found funding to provide residents with free replacement black garbage carts. You can get a new “super cart,” made from heavy-duty plastic and able to handle 96 gallons of trash.

Chicago Black Garbage Cart Request

Just call 311 or submit a request online, and one will be delivered to your house.

FAQ: What happens if I sneak my garbage into my neighbor’s bins?

Under the city’s municipal code, it’s against the law to dump your trash into someone else’s bin. Whether you stack your old couch in front of their house or tidily place one of your garbage bags into their trash bin, you could be fined between $200 and $500.

Garbage in a Bin

If someone is dumping their trash on your property or in front of your home, call 311 to report it. The city will send a ward supervisor to assess the situation and take action.

FAQ: Sometimes I’m not sure if something is recyclable or not — what should I do?

The Recycle by City — Chicago website has everything you could want to know about recycling in the city of Chicago. There’s a guide to exactly what can and cannot be recycled, the recycling schedule in your area, interesting articles, and even a fun two-minute quiz on recycling you can play.

The site is interactive and easy to navigate, and there’s a printable guide in English and Spanish. Chicago may, in the past, have lagged behind other cities when it comes to recycling programs, but the City of Chicago, along with the DSS, has done an amazing job with this website, so be sure to check it out.

Sorting Recyclables Bag

If you’re still stumped on whether something should go into your black bin or the blue one, the city says, “When in doubt, leave it out.”

Once you’ve looked at the city’s recycling website, we’re pretty sure you won’t be in any doubt about what goes where.

FAQ: Is recycling really worth the work and effort?

Yes. In a comprehensive article, “The Truth About Plastic and Recycling in 2022 and Exactly What is Harmful to the Environment,” journalist Boudicca Fox-Leonard talks with James Piper, a UK CEO of a leading environmental consultancy and author of The Rubbish Book.

Various Recyclable Materials

In 300 pages, he “shatters some of the common misconceptions about recycling.” Go here to get a fascinating look at the truths and myths about recycling.

FAQ: Is it true that I can’t recycle my plastic bags? 

That is true if you’re considering putting them in your blue cart. You can’t do that. Of course, the city hopes that you will recycle by bringing the bags to your local grocery store or a superstore like Walmart or Target.

You can use them to transport your recyclable materials to a recycling depot, but they will get thrown out there.

Recycling Plastic Bag

Why? While rigid plastic is easily processed when placed on a conveyor belt and sorted by machines, light, floaty plastic bags will just jam up the machinery and bring the recycling system to a halt. These bags bend easily and get snagged on belts.

Simply bring your plastic bags back to the grocery store and drop them off, or invest in reusable grocery bags and train yourself to remember to bring them into the store when you shop!

FAQ: What happens when non-recyclable things go to the recycling center?

There are good reasons why you should familiarize yourself with what is considered 100% recyclable before you toss it in your blue bin. The city has invested in Green Machine equipment that can process 600 tons of recyclable material every week.

Various Recycled Material

As smart as the machine is, it can only process paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal. Everything else that goes down the conveyor belt mucks up the process. Employees stand by the belt to eagle-eye the materials on the belt and remove anything that the Green Machine can’t handle. Still, as you can imagine, this significantly slows down efficiency and runs the risk of damaging the machinery.

FAQ: What is single stream recycling?

Single stream recycling is a system that allows all different types of recyclables to be mixed together in a collection truck. Once the mixed newspaper, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, or other recyclable arrives at the processing center, a combination of sorting technologies sorts and separates them into like categories.

Single Stream Recycling

The individual “commodities” are then baled or bundled before being sold to manufacturers, who then reprocess the materials in order to make something “new.”

This eases the burden on residents as it saves them time and requires less space in the home. Studies find that more people are willing to participate in recycling programs when they can do so quickly and relatively easily.

FAQ: What do the different numbers mean on plastic?

The numbers are a “resin identification code” that indicates what kind of plastic the material is made from. The number doesn’t indicate whether the plastic is recyclable.

  1. PETE
  2. HDPE
  3. PVC
  4. LDPE
  5. PP
  6. PS
  7. Other

Plastics with #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE) are the most commonly recycled plastic. The rest of the numbers are tougher to recycle, and not every city’s recycling program allows them to be thrown into the blue cart.

Plastic Processing Difficulties

Numbers one and two are the most widely recycled in the world and can be used to make new:

  • Fiber for carpet
  • Fleece jackets, comforter fill, tote bags
  • Containers for food, beverages (bottles), and non-food items
  • Film and sheeting
  • Strapping
  • Bottles for non-food items (shampoo, soaps, cleaners, etc.)
  • Plastic lumber
  • Recycling bins
  • Floor tiles
  • Buckets, bins, and crates
  • Flower pots and garden edging
  • Film and sheeting

FAQ: If a plastic container doesn’t have the chasing arrows sign with a number in its center, can it still go into the recycling bin?

Recycling Plastic Containers

No. Plastics without a number inside the chasing arrow sign should be thrown into the trash.

FAQ: How clean do my plastic containers need to be before they go into the recycling bin? 

Recycled Plastic Containers

Fairly clean. They definitely need to be rinsed out, leaving only a little residue. When sorted plastics go to the recycling mill, they all go through a washing cycle, and any leftover smears and residue gets removed.

FAQ: Do I need to take the labels off my recyclable containers?

Recycling Labeled Water Bottle

Nope. Labels don’t need to be removed, and both metal lids and plastic lids are acceptable in most recycling systems.

FAQ: Am I supposed to leave the caps on bottles and jars or remove them before they go into the recycling bin?

According to Tom Vujovic, an area recycling director at Waste Management of Illinois, it’s best to leave the caps on your bottles and jars, even if they are made from a different material. So, a metal lid on a plastic jar should still be put back on after washing the jar.

Recycling a Bottle

The alternative — throwing loose metal and plastic lids into the recycling bin — creates a bigger problem at the recycling mill. The lids end up in the glass section and can contaminate the product.

FAQ: I often get packages in the mail that are a combination of cardboard and plastic packing materials. Can I just toss the entire box into the recycling bin?

Packages in the Mail

The rule of thumb here is to separate the plastic liners and bags from the box. Flatten the box so it fits better in your bin, and don’t worry about leaving a little packing tape on the cardboard. The big thing to remember with packaging materials is that styrofoam peanuts can’t be recycled. These need to go in your regular trash and end up in the landfill.

FAQ: If I have too much recycling for my bin, can I drop it off somewhere in the city?

Chicago has two recycling centers where people can drop off their recycling materials. You can bring your extra recycling loose in a bin to dump there or bring it in a plastic bag. Plastic bags aren’t accepted in the recycling program, so the bags will be pulled at the depot.

Bins of Recycling Materials

Drop-off centers:

Far North Side
6441 North Ravenswood

Near South
1758 South Clark Street

FAQ: What exactly can I put in my recycling bins?

  • Glass jars and bottles
  • Aluminum cans, foil, and pie tins
  • Tin or steel cans
  • Cereal boxes, paper towel rolls
  • Cardboard (flatten all boxes)
  • Plastic bottles and containers: # 1-5, 7 accepted
  • Junk mail, magazines, and catalogs
  • Telephone books
  • Paper bags
  • Office paper and file folders
  • Newspaper and inserts
  • Beverage cartons: milk, juice, soy cartons
  • Beverage carrier stock: plastic rings and cardboard carrying cases
  • Wrapping paper: no bows or ribbons
  • Paper greeting cards

FAQ: What types of things are not accepted in Chicago’s recycling program?

  • Clothes and linens
  • Plastic or metal hangers
  • #6 Plastics: polystyrene or styrofoam
  • Diapers or feminine products
  • Construction debris: bricks, wood, cement, etc.
  • Paint or spray paint
  • Unnumbered plastics: toothbrushes, toys, hoses, cereal box liners, etc.
  • Loose plastic shopping bags (bring those back to retailers for recycling)
  • Hard, reusable plastic bottles (like Nalgene or baby bottles)

FAQ: Where can I bring stuff that’s not considered recycling?

We’re big fans of donating anything that could be valuable to someone else. Clothes and linens are always welcome at thrift stores, and some second-hand stores can even make use of your hangers.

There are lots of centers throughout Chicago that will accept your electronic waste. Many stores like Target, Best Buy, and Sprint Store list the items they’ll accept for recycling, including cell phones, audio equipment, inkjet cartridges, and even some specific types of plastic bags.

There are several electronic waste drop-off sites in the city as well. These are location specific, so they are intended for use by local residents.

Non Recyclable Trash

Here is a couple that may be close to your area:

WCCSWA Electronic Waste Drop-Off Site – Franklin Par

9360 Franklin Ave
Franklin Park, IL 60131
(847) 453-9100

WCCSWA Electronic Waste Drop-Off Site – Leyden Township

2501 Mannheim Rd
Franklin Park, IL 60131
(847) 453-9100

WCCSWA Electronic Waste Drop-Off Site – Schiller Park

9526 W Irving Park Rd
Schiller Park, IL 60176
(847) 453-9100

WCCSWA Electronic Waste Drop-Off Site – Northlake

100 West Palmer Avenue
Melrose Park, IL 60164
(708) 453-9100

WCCSWA Electronic Waste Drop-Off Site – Melrose Park

2309 Main St
Melrose Park, IL 60160
(708) 453-9100

If you need to dispose of building materials from a renovation or landscaping project, Chicago also has recycling depots that can handle just about anything.

JKS Ventures, Inc.

3800 W Lake St
Melrose Park, IL 60160
(708) 338-3408

GreenWay Resource Recovery, LLC.

2100 S Kilbourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 522-0025

Independent Recycling Services, Inc.

2401 S Laflin St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 732-9253

Of course, disposing of building and landscaping materials is in our wheelhouse. Most of these recycling centers have strict criteria for what materials they do or do not accept.

We are familiar with all the area’s recycling centers and know exactly who takes what and when. Plus, at Junk Relief, we have the trucks to get your junk there and the strong backs to get it off your property and off to its final resting place.

We’re committed to doing our part to take care of this beautiful world we live in. When Junk Relief comes to your house, we bring everything to our huge warehouse, sort it and make sure every bit of it goes to the right place. Every time.

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Joe Weidman

Joe is a Chicago native, born and raised in Elmhurst. He founded Junk Relief more than 10 years ago and has worked with more than 20,000 homeowners and businesses throughout Chicagoland. His passion for starting a business in junk removal stemmed from seeing the need to do things differently. He prides himself on his company's model to provide unexpectedly professional service.

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