May 3, 2024 - News

No timeline to clean up North Park recycling mess

Photo of garbage dumped in a lot

The site of the old North Park Village recycling center this week. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Three months after North Park Village's recycling center was shut down, mattresses, couches and even a car battery lie on soaked boxes and garbage with no timeline for cleanup.

Why it matters: The city-owned site once hosted Chicago's premier multi-stream recycling facility, but it has become an eyesore on a campus where people come for nature hikes and gymnastics.

Catch up quick: In late 2022, Kenn Dunn, 82, who had been running independent recycling operations on city land for more than 50 years, accused city crews of causing $20,000 of damage to his equipment at the North Park site, a claim the city denied.

  • In February 2024, he announced the center's closing, citing his age and inability to recover financially from the damage.
  • At the time, local Ald. Samantha Nugent's office said it was working with the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) to clean up the site.

Yes, but: This week, Nugent's spokesperson Adam Roberts told Axios the cleanup is still in the hands of DSS and Fleet and Facilities management, which operates the North Park Village property.

What they're saying: "City departments have been working with Mr. Dunn on exit plans for the site and will complete a full cleanup upon resolution," a DSS spokesperson told Axios.

  • Fleet and Facilities Management did not respond.
  • Dunn said he is waiting for the city to return his collection bins to his property on the South Side.

Backstory: Dunn tells Axios he started the multi-stream facility to demonstrate the importance of sorting glass from other materials, which he says allowed him to recycle 90% of what came into the facility.

  • He says the city's method of letting households toss all recyclables together lets broken glass contaminate valuable paper and cardboard, reducing their recyclability.
  • "The city wants to keep this hidden," he says. "They don't want me to blow the whistle."
Photo of garbage piling up next to a dumpster
An office chair is among the discarded items at the old site of the North Park Village recycling site. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

The other side: DSS officials call single-stream "the most convenient" method and say improved recycling technology allows "nearly 80%" of Chicago's blue bin contents to be "successfully sorted and processed."

What's next: Nugent's office says she's working to pass a City Council resolution recognizing Dunn's decades of service to Chicago's environment.

  • DSS says it has no plans to resume multi-stream collection at the site.

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