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New garbage pick-up system to debut in five North Side wards


Updated: May 28, 2012 8:52AM

Five North Side wards have been chosen as guinea pigs for a change Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes will save the city $60 million a year at the risk of alienating homeowners and aldermen — by switching from a ward-by-ward to a grid system for collecting Chicago’s garbage.

Last summer, Emanuel asked consultants to “develop a route system” for garbage collection that creates an “equitable workload for drivers” without regard to ward boundaries. The goal was to bring Chicago’s $225-per-ton cost closer to the $135 per ton spent in other major cities.

Two months later, the mayor incorporated the grid into his 2012 budget, pegged the annual savings at $60 million, but counted on only $20 million the first year because he planned to start slowly.

Now, the city has chosen five North Side wards to be the first to take the plunge: the 40th, 46th, 48th, 49th and 50th.

In the ward-by-ward system, city crews begin garbage collection on Monday and finish on Friday. The pick-up day is different, depending on where in the ward you live. Under the new system, the entire ward will be picked up on the same day.

That could make for a rocky first few weeks, with loads light in some areas and overflowing in others. It will also make community outreach essential.

“They’re gonna have is to get used to a new garbage day. That, for the public, should be the biggest difference and, frankly, the only difference,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader.

“Chicagoans are savvy. If there’s a little bit of discomfort in the transition and they realize we’ll end up saving significant money, they’ll be okay with that. Bugs should not last long.”

Some aldermen have been dead-set against the grid for fear that it would deprive them of their ability to respond to special requests for services. They’re determined to maintain control over housekeeping services that are an alderman’s bread-and-butter.

Similar concerns were raised two years ago, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley stripped aldermen of their exclusive control of a street sweeper.

“What happens when someone forgets to put their garbage cart out or a laborer misses a spot? When you have total control of your garbage trucks, you can have these things addressed almost immediately. Under the grid, we’ll have to depend on getting a truck that may be miles away,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

“The other concern is waste baskets. We’ve got a lot of people who put their household waste in baskets. A lot of them live in apartment buildings. They bring the garbage with them on the way to work or the bus. Baskets fill up very quickly. I’m hoping we’ll still be able to have baskets emptied on a regular enough basis so they don’t overflow.”

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), a former deputy commissioner in the Department of Streets and Sanitation, added, “Making sure the ward superintendent can get a truck that could pick up a fly dump where someone just drops tires — that’s important in our community. If baskets are overflowing, that’s also important.”

O’Connor said his longtime ally, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne, has assured North Side aldermen that equipment and manpower will be made available to each of the city’s five divisions for shared use by wards in need of special pick-ups.

“We’ll have the ability to address those situations on a ward level while garbage is picked up on a grid basis. It should be within the same time-frame or, if not, within a day,” he said.

Moore, whose ward includes a lot of tight alleys and dead-ends, said he was “initially a real skeptic” about the grid system. But, he gave up the ghost after new ward boundaries were drawn.

“I realize that, to do it on a ward basis is just not feasible as long as you have wards that look like salamanders,” Moore said.

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