CFL News
January 04, 2012

Taxpayers the winners in recycling competition, Emanuel says

City recycling crews lower the cost of pickup service, saving taxpayers $1 million in the first quarter alone

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Fran Spielman

Chicago taxpayers have already saved $1 million three months into a high-stakes competition between city employees and private contractors for the right to collect household recycling, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

A service that once cost taxpayers $4.77 for every blue cart collected is now being provided by city crews for $3.75 a cart, thanks to the sale of recyclables, routing changes and a “near zero” rate of unscheduled absenteeism.

Instead of 22 trucks, city crews need just 16. That has freed six trucks for routine garbage collection and allowed some crews to concentrate on previously decimated services such as tree-trimming and rodent control.

Private contractors Waste Management and Sims Municipal Recycling are honoring their commitment to do the job for $2.70 a cart.

That’s a bottom-line savings of $1 million over a three-month period.

No matter who wins the competition, Emanuel said one thing is certain: Chicago taxpayers have already won. By reducing the cost of household recycling, the city will be able to provide the service to 359,000 Chicago households without it, starting with 20,000 additional households by April 1.

“Price is gonna be the big driver. In the first three months, they already did a dollar. I don’t think this is an impossibility. And they’re also working harder,” Emanuel said of city crews.

“What happened in three months [to take it from] 22 crews to 16? What happened in three months that went from $4.77 to $3.75 a bin? Competition. The culture of competition has brought better services and better price. Prior to that competition, the work force was protected, and they did not have to work as hard, work as smart, work as efficient.”

In the first quarter of the new year, Emanuel said he expects to launch a similar managed competition for seven other city services, including booting, towing and tree-trimming.

“My goal is not who provides the service, but making sure city taxpayers get the best bang for their buck, and the city continues to provide good, reliable services,” Emanuel told a news conference at the Department of Fleet and Facilities Management, 1685 N. Throop..

Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Local 1001, said he is more confident than ever that city employees with their jobs on the line will win the competition.

But Phillips argued that price should not be the deciding factor. If city employees come close, they should get the edge, he said.

“If you get hit with a flood or a blizzard, who do you call? Do you contract somebody out or look for day manpower?” he said.

“We do more than pick up garbage. We could go on recycling one day, garbage, rodent control, shoveling people out or cleaning up peoples’ basements from flood damage the next day. See if your Waste Management will do that for the cost we do or whether they’re gonna stick it to you. If it’s close, we should get the edge because of what they use us for.”

Asked how he managed to reduce the cost by $1 a cart, Phillips said, “We just went back to the basics and re-routed the trucks in a more efficient way. We did it the old-school way — the way it should have been done from the get-go.”