Blue cart recycling competition begins between city and private firms
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com October 3, 2011 4:02PM
Updated: November 15, 2011 10:42AM
City crews and private contractors went head-to-head on Monday for the right to collect Chicago’s household recycling, with Phase 2 looming: a grid system that will set the stage for a similar, higher stakes competition for routine garbage.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed what the Chicago Sun-Times reported in August: that he has decided to risk a City Council rebellion to save $60 million — by switching from a ward-by-ward garbage collection system to a more efficient grid system.
The mayor noted that Chicago spends as much as $230 a ton to pick up garbage compared to $95 to $100 in Los Angeles and well under $100 for other major cities.
“I believe we can pick up garbage — not based on a political map, but based on efficiency,” the mayor said at a Streets and Sanitation facility at 1685 N. Throop.
Many aldermen remain dead-set against the grid system for fear it would deprive them of their ability to respond to special requests for services.
But, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne insisted Monday that he would allocate a certain amount of equipment off the grid — shared among several wards — to allow aldermen to continue to respond to “specials.”
As for the recycling competition, it got off to a rocky start in the Southwest Side’s Beverly neighborhood, which routinely racks up the highest participation rates in the city.
Waste Management distributed fliers about the change from city crews to private contractors, but failed to pinpoint a pick-up date. Questions were referred to 311, but call takers had no answers, either. That left homeowners wondering when to wheel their recycling carts to the curb.
“I’ll look at that and do the best we can with that,” Byrne said, when informed of the mix-up.
By mid-afternoon, Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) had pressured Waste Management to issue another flier.
Under the competition, Waste Management and another private contractor, Midwest Metal Management, are handling recycling pick up on the Northwest, South and much of the West sides. The city will compete on the North Side, downtown, parts of the West Side and most of the Southwest Side.
City crews began the competition with 22 trucks with a promise to get down to 15 by Thanksgiving before City Hall starts measuring for real.
City crews operate with a driver and one laborer. Private crews have one employee acting as both driver and laborer.
“This is a business. We have to be competitive,” said Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Local 1001.
“Everybody has to step up. You can’t afford to sit back and wait for the other guy to do it. It’s our jobs, our careers on the line. We’re gonna fight for ‘em. We’re not going down without a battle.”
Phillips added, “We did our own routing the way we thought we could do pick-ups more efficiently. We’re gonna be on the ground on a daily basis checking to see if the new routes are working. If not, they’ll be adjusted. We won’t wait three or four weeks.”
Early next year, blue-cart recycling will come to 20,000 additional households. By June, a cost-benefit analysis will determine a winner.
“It will be an evaluation of reliability of service, consistency of service, the quality of service, as well as the price. Price will be a big driving factor, a determining factor — not the only factor,” the mayor said.