Chicago Recycling Expansion: Mayor Emanuel Announces New Program

FINALLY: Will Emanuel Plan Bring Curbside Recycling To All Chicagoans?

For years, Chicago has struggled to put a reasonable recycling program in place. First, there was the failed blue bag system, which was finally scrapped after more than a decade of "failure." Then, City Hall announced a plan to bring blue garbage bins to every Chicago home, but only about a third of city households ended up with the bins. Others were forced to drag bags of recyclables to drop-off centers--or scrap recycling altogether.

On Monday, however, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicago's sordid history with recycling was about to change.

“I promised the people of Chicago that my administration would work to deliver the best services in the most cost-effective way possible," Emanuel said in a statement. "Delivering our Blue Cart recycling program at a lower cost to taxpayers is the first step in making recycling collection available citywide."

Emanuel's plan pits private contractors against city laborers in a "managed competition" which will ultimately lead to the extension of recycling services citywide. Emanuel said that other cities across the nation have had success with this model. The Chicago Sun-Times breaks it down:

The city will be divided into six service areas. Four will be served by two private contractors — Waste Management and Midwest Metal Management.

The remaining two service areas will be served by city employees to see if they can provide the same service at a lower cost to the city than the private companies do.

The mix of private and public workers will make the service more affordable for taxpayers, according to the Emanuel administration, which said Streets and Sanitation workers who are currently servicing areas that will be taken over by private companies will be "shifted to other duties within the department to fill vacant positions."

As the Sun-Times reports, the city's current curbside recycling program only covers 241,000 households, leaving 359,000 without any recycling pickup. According to Emanuel's plan, 20,000 households will receive Blue Carts four months after the private contractors are hired. Most of those households will be in Wicker Park, Logan Square and Bucktown, according to the Tribune.

The plan is similar to one former Mayor Richard M. Daley floated in April, but never completed since he was leaving office.

"When it comes to recycling in the city of Chicago, Chicago has been a tale of two cities," Emanuel said during a Monday press conference, according to the Tribune. "Half has had it and half has not."

Organized labor has previously taken issue with the privatization plan, according to an investigative report in the Chicago Reader published last summer.

"...Top officials have balked because they're not sure it's worth a fight with organized labor or the political costs of defending another privatization deal in the City Council, which took a lot of heat for privatizing street parking last year," reporter Mick Dumke wrote.

But during the mayoral election, the issue of lackluster recycling came up again and again--and Emanuel decided to move. The announcement comes after Emanuel announced Friday that he would lay off 625 city workers because the union did not respond to work-rule changes fast enough. Union members reportedly met with Emanuel to negotiate further Monday morning.

At this point, the Blue Cart program is reportedly costing the city $13.8 million. Private companies told the Emanuel administration they can cover the same service areas for $6.6 million. While he plans on keeping some Streets and San workers on board for now, the administration will review their options after six months--and stick with the most cost-effective option.

ABC Chicago's Charles Thomas tweeted Monday that Emanuel said he would privatize whenever and wherever it's a "win/win" situation for taxpayers and workers.

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