Rude Awakening: Tracking Illegal, Early Morning Trash Pickups

Talk about a rude awakening. If you’re a light sleeper or someone who works overnights, the sound of a garbage truck backing down your alley in the wee hours of the morning likely isn’t music to your ears.

But that’s just what WTTW News found last week when we followed up on a tip from a resident and saw private garbage hauler Groot making four separate pickups before 7 a.m.

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It’s not just a nuisance — it’s illegal.

Under Chicago’s noise ordinance, trash haulers are banned from work between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

But this past Friday morning in a quiet residential neighborhood at the north end of Rogers Park, a Groot garbage truck came backing down the alley between two side streets to make a pickup at 6:15 a.m. on the dot.

It wasn’t a one-off. We observed trucks making at least four pre-7 a.m. pickups in the neighborhood.

After following Groot’s illegal Rogers Park pickups, WTTW News reached out to the company.

In an email, Groot’s local district manager said, “We take all complaints seriously and work closely with the ward superintendents to remedy any issues as they come up. All of our routes are designed to comply with all local ordinances.”

He didn’t reply to a follow-up question about why WTTW News saw the company breaking local ordinances last week.

“It’s pretty noisy when it’s right outside somebody’s window, and it is really disruptive,” said 49th Ward Ald. Maria Hadden, whose ward the trash crews were working in. “While it may seem trivial, sleep disruption can really mess up your whole day and your whole week.”

Hadden said her office was getting complaints about two private trash companies hauling garbage during quiet hours. Those complaints got passed on to the local Department of Streets and Sanitation ward superintendent — and one of the companies shaped up.

“The other company, we’re still getting these kind of complaints sporadically, and so at this point now we have to look at what type of fines might need to be levied on this company in order to get them to change their behavior,” Hadden said.

The city doesn’t appear to have centralized data on how many of these complaints it receives each year, since they’re spread across ward offices and departments. But Hadden said since it’s often a localized issue, a ward-level approach is best.

“Groot (is) a reputable company … so it’s hard to say whether it’s a specific driver on that route that’s ignoring things, whether it’s something up the chain supervisory,” Hadden said. “Having this as a continued issue, it’s why we have an ordinance around noise so that we can make sure people get a good night’s sleep.”

For its part, the Department of Streets and Sanitation said in a statement that it takes these complaints very seriously. “Upon receiving a resident inquiry, DSS staff reaches out to the private company and reminds the company to adhere to the hours outlined in the City’s Noise Ordinance … the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is the lead department for enforcement.”

Contact Nick Blumberg: [email protected] | (773) 509-5434 | @ndblumberg

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