CITY HALL — A City Council committee endorsed stiff new fines for recycling violations Monday, but only as a "last resort" to compel compliance.
In a bid to get larger complexes from six-flats to high-rises to join in recycling, the Health Committee endorsed a hike in fines for not participating in recycling from the current $25-$100 range to $500-$1,000 for the first offense, $1,000-$2,500 for a second within 12 months and $2,500-$5,000 for subsequent offenses.
"I don't see it working as it should," said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), committee chairman, on the city's recycling program. "We need to do something drastic."
To that end, the Emanuel administration presented an overhauled recycling ordinance Monday intended to compel compliance through those stiffened fines.
Commissioner Charles Williams, whose Department of Streets and Sanitation will be charged with enforcement, said, "Our goal is to get good recycling going in the City of Chicago."
According to Williams, Streets & San trucks now service 600,000 single-family households across the city through the blue-cart program fully implemented in 2013, but it only serves up to four-flats. Larger apartment complexes and condominiums are expected to provide their own recycling through private firms.
Claire Miklin, founder of Chicago's My Building Doesn't Recycle! webpage, testified Monday that the honor system wasn't working. "The problem was the very limited enforcement of the original recycling ordinance," she said.
Williams granted that only 197 citations for failure to recycle had been issued over the last 10 years, but said that would be changing, albeit with a continuing emphasis on compliance over punishment.
"We intend to work very closely with the owners and associations," Williams said. "It is not our intent to go out and start hammering folks with tickets." He called issuing citations "our last resort when we get no cooperation whatsoever."
Cardenas said he expected the new fines to "entice" compliance, especially among "bad elements" and "absentee landlords."
Yet Brian Bernardoni, spokesman for the Chicago Association of Realtors, opposed the ordinance, calling it "unduly onerous," with fines that are "significant."
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) was sympathetic, saying he didn't think it fair to go "blaming the landlords" for violations.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) agreed, but only up to a point, saying, "The fine should be enough to really get your attention."
"Someone has to be accountable, and it has to fall on the landlord," Williams said.
As a result, the committee backed the ordinance, while adding new language allowing first for a 30-day warning notice before fines kick in.
Fines for placing banned items in a recycling cart would remain in the $50-$100 range, with Williams allowing that enforcement posed a problem in that area.
"We're not going to issue a citation just because a cart is contaminated, because we don't know who did it," he said. In cases where a complaint is received and a certain person is found to have contaminated a cart, he added, Streets & San workers wouldn't hesitate to write a ticket.
With the addition of the 30-day warning, the proposal passed without opposition and heads to the full City Council for final approval on Wednesday.
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