Standing in the alley of Sophie LeRoy and Scott Ellingson’s Albany Park apartment on the Northwest Side on a Friday morning, it’s immediately clear the city’s garbage trucks have just passed through.
That’s not because of the freshly emptied trash cans, but because of the puddles of goo that now line the alley.
“It’s a mixture of motor oil, yellow, sort of wet sewage,” says Ellingson.
“It’s like a white yellow-ish kind of vomit color, I guess?” offers LeRoy.
It smells like all of those things — maybe add in rotten milk — all mixed together.
“We found that wearing masks helps,” says Ellingson.
They’re pointing to the liquid waste that comes out of some of the city’s garbage trucks, which some describe as “garbage juice.” They say it’s happened so frequently in the past year, they contacted their alderman, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, about it.
Ramirez-Rosa said he’s used to hearing complaints about rats and tree-trimming, but said the complaints about the garbage juice was a new one. He says it came to his attention about two months ago.
Ramirez-Rosa says he and his ward superintendent — the person employed by the department of streets and sanitation to work on street level issues in wards — were told the problem was because of a “supply chain issue,” though the department of Streets and Sanitation did not confirm this with WBEZ.
Trucks that would normally receive regular maintenance, Ramirez-Rosa says, weren’t able to get specific parts replaced, causing the trucks to leak.
Ramirez-Rosa then took the problem to this past week’s budget hearings, where he questioned the Department of Streets and Sanitation about the so-called garbage juice.
Acting Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Cole Stallard says the leak stems from a broken piece of the garbage truck apparatus.
“It’s a plug,” he said. “If it rains and the garbage is soaking wet, that plug in the hopper that takes in what we call the juice…if that plug comes out, that’s what causes the stream down the alley.”
“And it does smell,” he added.
Neither Stallard nor other department officials mentioned in budget hearings the supply chain issue Ramirez-Rosa said he was informed about. The department told aldermen to report specific fleets that are causing the issue so that they can get repaired.
Ramirez-Rosa says he wants a longer-term solution, whether that’s more funding to replace aging trucks, or more frequent stops to empty the trucks more often.
In the meantime, another Albany Park resident, Michael Waechter, says he and his family are avoiding the alley altogether.
“People get it onto their car tires and bring it into their garage… and it just sits there and festers,” he said.
The city did not provide information on how widespread the issue is, but says it does have the funding to fix trucks once they’re reported.
In an email to WBEZ Friday, the city said it has received reports of two leaky trucks, and would be pulling them from service to get them fixed.
Mariah Woelfel covers city government for WBEZ. Follow @mariahwoelfel.