Nov 2, 2021 - News

The right way to toss out those fall leaves

bag of leaves in alley.

Yard waste must be bagged and placed outside garbage bins for pickups that can be scheduled by calling 311. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

It's leaf raking season but data suggests most Chicagoans still don't know the right way to throw away their yard waste.

  • Still, they can be forgiven because it's weird and complicated.

Why it matters: When organic waste like leaves and other plants is dumped in trash bins, it heads to a landfill and creates powerful greenhouse gasses that drive climate change. It's also been illegal to dump yard waste in landfills since 1990 in Illinois.

How it works: Chicagoans are supposed to place their organics in any bag, call 311, schedule a yard waste pick up and then leave the bag outside next to their garbage bins.

  • Your ward superintendent is then supposed to send a special truck to pick up the bag. It is not supposed to be picked up by garbage trucks.

The intrigue: Many citizens have reported and photographed sanitation workers pitching the yard waste into garbage trucks headed for the landfill.

  • City officials tell Axios that if they get verified reports of city workers breaking the rules they will take action.

Can you trust it? Monica has investigated the issue over the years,

  • She found that only about 1% of citizens call to have their yard waste picked up.
  • But even as the number of calls rose in recent years, actual yard waste pick ups fell and city officials could not explain why.

Axios filed an open records request to the Department of Streets and Sanitation last month to see how the system is working today. We'll share it as soon as we get it.

  • In the meantime: Chop and compost leaves at home or just leave them in flower beds or on your lawn.

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