Emanuel wants consultant to make trash collection more efficient

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking for a consultant to study changing the city's trash collection approach. (Tribune/Nancy Stone)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking to hire a private consultant to study how garbage is collected to help Chicago switch from its time-honored ward-by-ward trash pickup to a grid-based system.

The new administration says it just wants to figure out whether the change would be cost-effective and maintain the level of service. But the mayor also is setting up a fight with aldermen, who now have control over trash pickup in their wards.

The mayor’s cattle call for garbage consultants comes as he already is battling with labor unions that oppose his decision to hire companies to take over more than half of the city’s curbside recycling business.

Emanuel noted the recycling deal could create a blueprint for handing over all the city's trash collection to private companies. During the mayoral campaign, Emanuel estimated the city could save more than $60 million by getting rid of the city's inefficient ward-by-ward system of collection.

The city currently uses 352 semi-automated, rear-load trucks with as many as three workers for weekly trash pick up at roughly 600,000 Chicago households.

Potential bidders, who have until the end of the summer to respond to Emanuel’s request, are being asked to create detailed mapped routes that look at everything from crew size to drive time to maximize the number of stops per route.

“We are conducting an assessment to determine how to provide residents with the best garbage collection services for the best price and we will work closely with the City Council to achieve that goal,” Emanuel spokeswoman Chris Mather said Tuesday.

Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, said the city should be capable of creating its own grid system without relying on the help of outside consultants.

“That’s kind of surprising that the so-called experts don’t know how to do that themselves,” he said of the Streets and Sanitation Department. “We shouldn’t let someone from the outside determine how the city should run.”

Waguespack said he also viewed it as a “privatization scheme” for garbage collection.

Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, warned Emanuel’s administration to move with “extreme caution” to make sure it doesn’t unnecessarily antagonize labor.

“The last thing you want to do is disband your workforce,” Moore said. “We can’t do anything that costs us in the long run and has unintended consequences.”

Moore also said the current system allows aldermen to promptly respond to constituent requests.

“We’re in the front lines and we do understand how the current system of service delivery on a ward model has some real benefits,” Moore said. “It allows us to be held accountable and makes us responsive.”

The ward system also allows aldermen to dole out favors. Ward superintendents, who are Streets and Sanitation employees generally hired with the input of aldermen, oversee trash and garbage pick up in each ward.

Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, a newcomer to the City Council, said it makes no sense to have ward-by-ward garbage pickup.  “We all want control,” Pawar said. “But that system is based on this idea that politics has to be involved in service delivery.”