Report Blames Chicago's Low Recycling Rate on Lack of Enforcement

Date: December 2, 2020

Source: Chicago Office of the Inspector General (OIG)

A recent audit by Chicago's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) failed to enforce a requirement that commercial and high density (5 or more residential units) properties provide recycling services. The DSS currently only provides recycling services for low density residential properties, whereas commercial and high-density residential properties are required to use contractors to provide recycling services. Under city ordinances, the DSS is required to make sure that owners are providing recycling services and that haulers are providing detailed, accurate and timely annual reports of buildings served and materials collected.

The OIG audit lists several proposed fixes to the lapses in enforcement from the DSS, these include more consistent enforcement, the implementation of a Mobile E-Ticket system to allow users to more efficiently view violations and order citations and more consistent monitoring of data pulled from haulers. The audit also states that the DSS should implement both proactive and complaint-based enforcement.

Chicago has a recycling rate of about 9%, which is one of the lowest among large cities in the US. Since the 1990's, While Chicago's city hall has aimed to increase recycling, its implemented policies have met with only mixed success, including a voluntary blue bag program that lasted for 13 years and is largely considered a failure. At least two Aldermen, Scott Waguespack and Michele Smith, have stated that the systemic problems from past policies have held Chicago back. They also note that the current mayor. Lori Lightfoot, seems amenable to improving the system.

Chicago Recycling Coalition (CRC) Vice President Carter O'Brien believes that the system is failing because it comes with a conflict of interest baked in. He notes that under the current system, the DSS is required to dedicate resources towards privately owned competitors. The CRC also suggests that the city delegates the enforcement instead to a different agency, like the Department of Buildings, which is better equipped to perform data collection and monitoring. The OIG audit has also renewed interest from the Chicago City Council on the issue, which aims to hold a hearing on the matter in January.



Published December 2, 2020

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed an audit which finds that the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) does not ensure commercial and high-density residential building (i.e., those with five or more units) owners provide recycling services as required by the Chicago Recycling Ordinance. The City is required to provide buildings found in violation of this requirement 30 days to come into compliance; continued noncompliance can result in fines ranging between $500 and $5,000 per day. OIG also concluded that DSS does not ensure that private haulers submit complete, accurate, and timely reports detailing the buildings they served, and the amount and type of materials hauled.

OIG made several recommendations to help DSS consistently record and monitor the outcomes of recycling inspections as well as proactively enforce the Recycling Ordinance. OIG suggested that DSS should,

  • work with the Department of Law (DOL) and the Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) to configure its Mobile E-Ticket system to allow users to issue citations for violations of the Ordinance;

  • consistently record and monitor whether building owners received 30-day notices and the outcomes;

  • ensure that private haulers submit complete, accurate, and timely annual reports;

  • review the design of the annual reports to ensure it supports the City's recycling goals;

  • develop procedures to incorporate private haulers' diversion data into a citywide waste diversion rate; and

  • ensure that private haulers report customers who decline recycling services.

In response, DSS agreed with our recommendations and stated that it will continue working with DOL and AIS to revise citation processes and add the Ordinance to the ticketing system, as well as develop a proactive enforcement strategy concerning recycling services once the City's comprehensive waste study is completed.

"Proper recycling in commercial and high-density residential buildings, the latter of which make up more than 40 percent of households throughout Chicago, can help reduce the City's dependence on landfills, which emit greenhouse gases that harm public health and natural habitats," said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. "While the City of Chicago has implemented a variety of recycling programs throughout the years, it has historically struggled with low participation rates. The Chicago Recycling Ordinance was amended in 2017 to include stronger enforcement provisions, but our audit shows that this responsibility has not been met and significant barriers still exist. As we await the City's comprehensive waste study and its eventual impact on a proactive enforcement strategy, we are encouraged that the Department of Streets and Sanitation agreed with our recommendations and has begun collaborating with other departments to improve its citation system and address compliance issues."

The full report can be found online at OIG's website:

Follow @ChicagoOIG on Twitter and Facebook for the latest information on how OIG continues to fight waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficiency in Chicago government.


The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at:

Sign up to receive our free Weekly News Bulletin