Emanuel garbage savings not as large as projected

City Streets and Sanitation laborers Jauyonta Morris, left, and Steven Lewis put on gloves after a lunch break as they resume collecting refuse under the older, ward-based system Thursday, on the South Side. (Chris Walker / April 11, 2013)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated the end of Chicago’s traditional ward-based, alderman-controlled garbage collection routes Thursday, even though the money he now says the city will save with the switch to a grid system is well short of his earlier estimates.

The mayor estimated the city will save $18 million in yearly reduced trash pick-up costs by abandoning the often byzantine boundaries of Chicago’s 50 wards in favor of geographically concise paths for garbage trucks. The savings will be used to pay for Emanuel’s plan to expand recycling citywide, so the money will not reduce city spending.

That’s less than one-third of the $60 million he first predicted would be saved annually when he initially brought up the grid idea as a mayoral candidate. The mayor’s office did not offer an explanation Thursday.

The switch hasn’t been without hiccups.

Aldermen complained that garbage bins were overflowing in alleys and wire cans weren’t getting emptied regularly outside businesses and near parks almost from the moment the first North Side neighborhoods changed over in summer 2012. In many cases, aldermen said the problems were sorted out after a few weeks.

On Thursday, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams said his department is “working our way through those issues.”

Aldermen also expressed concern throughout the changeover that they would lose their ability to call for special pick-ups when needed, a long-cherished example of aldermanic prerogative.

Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, said Thursday most of his qualms were allayed as he saw the grid implemented in other parts of the city. “We still have our ward superintendents, who are going to be addressing those” requests for special pick-ups, Beale said. And he also said his constituents are happy they are finally getting household recycling this year.

Hitting one of his common refrains, Emanuel said he ended years of inaction on the need for greater efficiency in trash collection. “As you know, this day was about 10 to 12 years in the making,” Emanuel said while speaking to reporters in a Streets and Sanitation garage in the Pullman neighborhood. “We have debated about the notion of taking politics out of garbage collection in the city of Chicago for over a decade.”


Twitter @_johnbyrne