LINCOLN PARK — The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has lost its recycling bins, and it's not alone.
Because of a new recycling ordinance to take effect Jan. 1, the city is phasing out its six recycling drop-off centers, even as officials complain that Chicagoans are not doing enough to recycle.
"There’s a new ordinance that takes effect Jan. 1 that requires every property in Chicago to have its own recycling program, so the city is phasing out the drop-off centers," museum spokeswoman Stephanie Goldina said Monday. "Every center will be gone by the end of the year."
Lincoln Park residents recently noticed the public recycling bins had disappeared outside the Notebaert Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive.
Old Town resident Bob Roth said he went on a trip to Maine and returned to find them gone.
"How come?" Roth said. "It seems to me these dedicated dumpsters ought to be far 'cleaner' than all the blue bins in all the alleys, which are impossible to prevent getting contaminated with trash."
Anne Sheahan, spokeswoman for the Department of Streets and Sanitation, which handles the city's blue-cart recycling program, said the perception that the drop-off centers would be "cleaner" in actual recyclable material, because people were going out of their way to go there, didn't fit the reality.
"We can say that over the years these boxes have always been somewhat problematic for us," Sheahan said Tuesday. "They have a very low capacity, they require constant servicing and, at the end of the day, a lot of it is fly-dumping, and a lot of it is garbage."
According to Sheahan, the drop-off centers were typically attracting "clothing and a lot of construction debris." She added, "Because it is operationally taxing, and a lot of it isn't even recycling, we're starting to pull back a lot of the ones that are problematic."
By "a lot," read "almost all." The latest Department of Streets and Sanitation website shows six drop-off centers citywide. But that's down from eight shown on a map linked to the page, and down considerably from the dozens shown on an earlier Google Maps page. Sheahan said they peaked in 2012 with 38 citywide.
The City Council passed the new ordinance in July calling for larger apartment buildings and condominiums, previously not included in the city's recycling efforts, to arrange their own recycling and setting steep fines for noncompliance. Because all buildings will now have recycling — from the 600,000 homes the city services, up through four-flats, to the rest now getting their own recycling pickup — officials determined drop-off centers were unnecessary.
"We're starting to roll these back," Sheahan said. "We'll have some around through the beginning of 2017 until people transition to their private scavengers."
Then they'll be phased out as well.
Here are the final six drop-off centers:
6441 N. Ravenswood Ave.
1519 W. Warren Blvd.
1758 S. Clark St.
3850 S. State St.
5560 Russell Drive
1150 N. North Branch St. (household chemicals and computers, will remain open)
At the same time, city officials complained only last month that only 10 percent of total waste was being recycled citywide. Streets & San sought ways to encourage Chicagoans to recycle — even as it was phasing out drop-off centers.
Roth called it "peculiar" that the city was trying to encourage compliance by asking residents in a South Side pilot program to concentrate on paper, metal and glass and ignore plastic.
"Somehow this is going to encourage participation?" Roth said.
Sheahan said some areas of the city participate far more in recycling, and that residents filling up their blue carts ahead of the two-week pickups should not miss the drop-off centers.
"If residents are filling up their blue cart, they can call 311 and get another," she said. "That's what we encourage people to do."
Although some high-rises have yet to offer recycling, it's not expected to be a problem. Aldermen put teeth in the fines in July after Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the Health Committee, which passed the measure, said, "We need to do something drastic" to get the attention of high-rise owners and condo associations.
Effective with the new year, fines for not offering recycling will go from the current range of $25-$100 to $500-$1,000 for the first offense (after a 30-day warning), $1,000-$2,500 for a second offense within a year and $2,500-$5,000 after that.
"The fine should be enough to really get your attention," Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said.
Streets and San Supt. Charles Williams admitted at the time that the department had issued just 197 recycling tickets over the previous 10 years, but said he intended to speak softly and persuasively with the big stick of fines he was being handed.
"We intend to work very closely with the owners and associations," he said. "It is not our intent to go out and start hammering folks with tickets."
Tickets will be given "as a last resort when we get no cooperation whatsoever," he said.
Residents can call 311 to report noncompliance after Jan. 1.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.