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Trash Pickup Skipped in Chicago

Trash is a problem that needs to be dealt with in any community, large or small. However, with dense housing and a packed city like Chicago, there are unique challenges that need to be overcome to keep the streets clear and the city running smoothly. Part of that challenge is an ongoing, rolling schedule of trash pickup.

In order to keep this system running smoothly, everything needs to go right. Many things can cause problems, from a distracted driver hitting a waste removal vehicle to a car parked in the wrong place and obstructing a bin, to just getting the timing wrong. No matter what the case may be – when you put your bin out to be collected and find it still there at the end of the day, it suddenly becomes an issue.

There are a lot of different things that can go wrong with trash pickup. Here are five of the most common and what you can do to handle them.

1: It’s a Holiday

The first (and one of the most common) reason why trash collection is missed is that, well, it wasn’t actually missed.

Just like any other worker, holidays (especially bank holidays) are time off. In the city of Chicago, there are a handful of state and federal holidays where sanitation workers are given the day off.

Holiday in Chicago

These holiday days where trash collection is skipped are:

  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday
  • Pulaski Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Juneteenth Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Each year, the City of Chicago Website is updated with a list of the exact dates (since some of these dates shuffle around each year), as well as any changes to the list. You can see the list as one of the linked pages from this page on the Chicago official website.

If your pickup happens to fall on one of these days, typically, your pickup will be skipped until the following week. Sometimes, additional trucks are mobilized to pick up what was skipped, but often it’s simply easier and cheaper to wait. The city doesn’t want to shift the entire trash pickup schedule every time there’s a holiday, after all. When in doubt, check the link above, and take a look up and down your street to see if your neighbors have their cans out yet.

2: You Got the Day Wrong

Another possibility is that you put the trash out on a day that isn’t your scheduled pickup day.

Wrong Day for Trash Pickup

There are a couple of reasons why this can happen.

  • One of the most common is that you just moved from one part of the city to another, and you moved to an area where the trash day is a different day and didn’t realize it. Plenty of people get the impression that trash is picked up everywhere all at once rather than on a rolling schedule.
  • Chicago also just recently (-ish, in 2013) moved to a grid-based system rather than a ward-based system. In the previous ward-based system, quirks of geography and road layouts meant that some trash trucks would need to drive long, circuitous routes, or additional trucks would be needed to cover whole wards in a reasonable amount of time. This cost the city a lot of money in worker hours, fuel costs, truck maintenance, and more. You can read more about the grid system, the pros and cons, and their official FAQ from this page.

Luckily, this is an easy problem to solve. All you need to do is look up your actual pickup date and put your trash back out on that date. It will be picked up as normal, and you just need to remember the right date moving forward.

3: You Missed Paying the Bill

No judgment here. Times are tough. The economy is a mess, and costs are skyrocketing for everything from the food we eat to the fuel we use to the rent we pay to live. With all the chaos in the world around us, with the pandemic throwing our lives into disarray, with jobs lost, evictions are rising, and more, some things slip through the cracks.

Let’s be real; how many of you consider your trash pickup bill to be first and foremost in your minds? It’s not usually the first, the fifth, or the hundredth thing many people think about. It’s easy for that one little bill to settle to the bottom of the junk pile and end up going past due and unpaid.

Missed Your Trash Payment

Unfortunately, time waits for no one, and a past due bill stays past due unless you do something about it. If you end up missing your bill, your trash service will be canceled until you bring your account back up to date.

There’s a surprising amount of complexity with Chicago trash pickup. There are metered and non-metered residences, there are different requirements for single-family homes versus multi-family dwellings, and more. You can read more about them here. You can also find a link in that document to a page about the city’s payment plans and other options if you find yourself in financial hardship and need a break to help catch up and get back on your feet.

4: Something Obstructed Your Bin

Trash trucks throughout Chicago either use automated arms to lift and dump bins, or they require workers to do it. In either case, the truck needs access to the bins to empty them.

Something Obstructed Your Bin

That’s fine most of the time, but what happens if, say:

  • Someone parks in front of your bins?
  • Snow piled up makes them inaccessible?
  • Does an accident cause them to tip?
  • Heavy rain makes it impossible to see?

If workers cannot see or access the bins, they’ll either be forced to skip them or will simply miss them. In either case, when everyone around you had their trash removed, and yours is still there, it’s a hassle.

Usually, this isn’t the fault of the workers. Sanitation workers do their best, and sometimes unavoidable circumstances make them unable to do their job. We cast no blame on them; it’s a hard job, and we’re lucky to have them doing it.

5: You Put Out Too Much

In some cases, either volume or weight limits prevent a typical trash truck from removing your garbage. This often happens if you’re clearing out a hoarding situation, doing a remodel, or simply letting trash pile up and are trying to get rid of it all at once. In some residential apartments and other high-density areas, certain times of year (around lease turnover, for example) can flood the bins as well.

You Put Out Too Much Junk

If there’s simply too much trash, or there’s too much heavy trash, the trucks that come by will only take some of it, or they won’t take any of it. This is especially true of trash that isn’t properly sorted (like construction debris that should be handled in other ways) or if the workers notice hazardous materials in the piles.

Whatever the case may be, there are other options to turn to besides plain old residential garbage collection. For example, you could give us a call to haul away your high-volume refuse. More on that later, though.

Other Possible Problems

The above five reasons are the most common, but they aren’t the only possible reasons why your trash was left behind.

Other Possible Problems

Here are a few others, in brief.

  • One, we already mentioned hazardous materials. Batteries, for example, are prohibited items. A sanitation worker is unlikely to reject a whole bin because they spotted a AA, but if you’re trying to dispose of used car batteries, they’ll be left behind.
  • Other unacceptable items for the trash include construction debris, hazardous chemicals, rocks/cinderblocks/bricks, other heavy stones, and so on. The latter is prohibited more because of weight limits, but they can still cause your pickup to skip over your bins.
  • Another semi-common issue in some places, particularly those that use automated arms to empty bins, is the bins simply not being positioned correctly. If the bin is angled wrong and the truck can’t access it, sometimes workers will skip it rather than get out and reposition it for their arm. This only applies to areas using such automated systems, of course.
  • Weather is another big one. Inclement weather, including extreme heat, extreme cold, powerful thunderstorms, or instances of tornado warnings and other severe weather warnings, all are reasons why collection may be delayed or skipped.
  • Finally, in some cases, you may have contracted with a licensed scavenger rather than the city waste management. If that’s the case, it’s always possible that they are no longer in service or are otherwise having issues, so you’ll need to take it up with them. This is more relevant to businesses than residents, though.

Now that we know the most common reasons that your trash wasn’t picked up, here are some solutions.

How to Handle a Missed Trash Pickup

So, your pickup day has come and gone, and your trash is still there, baking in the heat and stinking up the place. What do you do? Luckily, there are a few options that are pretty much guaranteed to solve your problem.

1. Wait for a delayed pickup.

The first option is, of course, to just wait. If your pickup was missed because of inclement weather, a holiday, or another regional cause (that is, it wasn’t just your house, but your whole street or ward that was missed), then chances are the city is well aware of the issue, and will solve it as soon as possible.

Delayed Pickup

If it was a holiday, there might be a rescheduled pickup the next day, or it may be put off for the next week; either way, it won’t be a massive problem. Of course, the inconvenience is never pleasant, so you may want to look into other options.

2. Report a missed pickup.

Chicago allows you to call 311 or use the city’s online 311 system. The online system is found here. Using either system, you can report a missed pickup, either for yourself or for your whole alley. You can report a missed pickup and have a new one scheduled, and you can sign up for reminders for your pickup schedule in case you miss the date and want that reminder.

Report a Missed a Pickup

In general, the city’s 311 service is pretty useful. You can report all kinds of problems and have the city handle them, from roadkill to noise complaints to hazardous materials testing and a whole lot more. It should be one of your first stops whenever you have a problem the city normally handles, honestly. There are plenty of reasons to gripe about how the city administration manages services, but trash removal is not generally one of them.

3. Hire a junk removal service.

If your trash pickup was missed, and there was no reason for it to be ignored or rejected, you should work with the city to solve the problem. On the other hand, if you have bricks, construction debris, demolition debris, hazardous materials, heavy materials, or large volumes of materials, you can’t just put it all out by the road and expect the city to clear it away.

Your best option, in this case, is to hire a junk removal service. There are a few different ways you can do this, from renting a dumpster and filling it to calling us.

Junk Relief

Obviously, we’re a little biased, but we think we’re just about the best option if you need fast junk removal. Just a small pile? A whole room demo? House clear-out? We’ll handle any and all of it. We’ve seen it all, and we’ve hauled it all away.

All you need to do is reach out to us through one of our many contact options. Chat with us and discuss what you have to get rid of and how much there is, and we’ll give you an estimate to have it cleared away. We’ll recycle anything we can, salvage and donate what can be returned to the community, and properly dispose of the rest. What’s not to love?

So, if you have trash that needs to be picked up and the city won’t do it, give us a call, and we’ll be happy to help.

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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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