Reducing, reusing but not recycling

Buildings with four units or less are eligible to receive these bins, part of the city's Blue Cart recycling service; buildings with five units or more must go through a private hauler to get recycling. Ellen Bauch // The PHOENIX

While on campus, Loyola students attend the fourth greenest college in America, according to the Sierra Club’s annual rankings; however, those who live off campus may be out of luck when it comes to one environmentally friendly practice—recycling.

Since 1995, under Chicago’s recycling ordinance, buildings with five units or more are required to offer residents an effective recycling program. Those with four units or less have been eligible since the end of 2013 to be part of the city’s Blue Cart recycling service, which provides recycling bins for smaller buildings.

However, not all buildings, including many in the neighborhoods around Loyola, are following the ordinance, and this is illegal. Some Chicago residents took note of this, and they decided to take action.

Launched on Jan. 27, the crowdsourcing website My Building Doesn’t Recycle! aims to help Chicagoans who do not have access to recycling.

One of the site’s creators, Claire Micklin, came up with the idea after she had little success trying to get recycling for her apartment building. She started attending Open Government Hack Night meetings, which strive to provide citizens with more public data through the development of apps that engage people with their communities.

My Building Doesn’t Recycle! lets users report their building if it does not have recycling. Since its launch two weeks ago, the site has already received more than 800 reports, with over 100 of them near Lake Shore Campus.

The problem with recycling has two main causes, according to Micklin.

“The city does not enforce the law at all, so there’s no fear [for landlords] of any fine if they don’t [offer recycling]. They know nothing will be done about it,” said Micklin. “The second reason is that landlords are required to pay extra for recycling, so they have to contact the private waste hauler to get a bin that is an appropriate size for their building.”

Many of the site's reports are north of downtown, especially in Rogers Park and Edgewater. Courtesy of
Many of the site’s reports are north of downtown, especially in Rogers Park and Edgewater. Courtesy of

As she reviews the reports on the site, Micklin finds the comments the most intriguing.

“I see stories like, ‘my landlord told me that if we just put it in the trash it will be separated,’ or ‘they just go dump it in someone else’s blue bin,’” Micklin said.

She has even come across other issues in the reports, such as buildings that have recycling, but don’t have enough bins to hold recycling from all of the tenants.

The stories in those reports are reality for many apartment renters, including senior Katie Borman, who lives in Campus Towers, right off Lake Shore Campus and home to many Loyola students.

Borman said she and her roommates take advantage of dumping their recycling into bins owned by Loyola by the back exit to their apartment. Even though she knows she’s not supposed to use bins that are not for her building, she wants to make sure recyclables are not going into the landfill. Borman has tried to take action about the issue in her apartment, but, like many Chicagoans, has not had any luck.

“We have approached our building management about the issue, but they don’t seem to be very interested,” said the 21-year-old Ad/PR major. “It doesn’t seem to be much of a priority, which is ironic because our building produces more waste and recycling than other buildings in the neighborhood due to our size.”

MyBuilding Doesn’t Recycle! encourages residents such as Borman to submit a report on the site. Micklin said they are exploring opportunities to take action once they create a little more momentum.

“We’ve always had the idea of using the data to get the law enforced. That would be our goal,” Micklin said. “Let’s have the city enforce this law that’s already been on the books.”

However, they site creators are finding the process to be tricky and are trying to strategize the best way to approach the city. Until that time comes, the site encourages people to contact their aldermen and keep reporting.

Gina Lettiere, sustainability specialist at Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES), said it is up to the residents and the landlord to take on the responsibility.

“What tenants can do is report landlords to the city of Chicago, [by calling] 311,” said Lettiere. “It’s an ordinance and [the landlords] are not abiding by that ordinance.”

She said if residents are regularly following up with their landlord or building management and no changes are taking place, they should call 311. Lettiere also encourages students to take advantage of the programs offered by Loyola’s IES to help students live sustainably off campus.

Jessi Hannapel, a senior film and digital media production major, said her building does not offer recycling but hopes the website can help make a change.

“If it were as simple as telling a website that I don’t have recycling and they could get a bin for me, I would do it,” said the 21-year-old.

For students like Hannapel, Lettiere suggests trying to lighten their consumption.

“It’s something we all embark on in our lives, in terms of making change and being a leader within our own household, on our block, in our building,” she said. “If people have a lack of caring, then reduce your consumption.”

For Micklin and the creators of My Building Doesn’t Recycle!, the city needs to take action to make a change.

“If they actually want people to recycle, they have to make it a lot easier, both for landlords and for tenants,” Micklin said.

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