Nov 16, 2021 - News

Sanitation chief: "We've got to do better"

Chicago 311 leaf pickup requests and tonnage collected
Data: Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We've recently reported on the right way to dispose of leaves for composting — call 311 for a special pickup — but how some city workers have been tossing leaf bags in with garbage.

  • We've also heard about special "off the books" leaf sweeps in Beverly where a scoop truck collects leaves.
  • And last week we obtained documents showing that in some years, leaf collection has actually decreased as calls for leaf pickups have increased.

Why it matters: Mixing yard waste with garbage and sending it to landfills creates the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

What they're saying: For answers, we interviewed new Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Cole Stallard.

  • On the leaf bags getting tossed with garbage: "I'm not gonna deny that fact. It does happen sometimes as your story said. We're keeping track and taking [most leaves] to the place where they can be composted. But we have to do better."
  • On the "off the books" Beverly leaf collection: Stallard says some super leafy areas require extra equipment. "We send a [scooping] front end loader, a semi and a street sweeper. But, just so you know, all those leaves are being composted."
  • DSS officials are still not sure why, in some years, leaf collection tonnage decreased when calls increased.

The good news: Chicago's most recent data shows collection rising with increased calls.

Yes, but: In recent years, the Oak Park waste department — which serves 4% as many homes as Chicago's — collected 100 times more leaves by weight.

  • In other words, we've got some catching up to do.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more