Is Mayor Emanuel’s “managed competition” really just “stealth privatization?”
On July 18, the City of Chicago website proclaimed: Mayor Emanuel Announces Plan to Make Recycling More Cost Effective. The story, which was quickly picked up by local and national media, was about how the mayor was introducing “managed competition” to the administrative debacle that has been recycling in Chicago for more than twenty years.
Let us be clear. The City of Chicago NEEDS A COMPREHENSIVE RECYCLING AND SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT PLAN. “Managed competition” is not a plan. It’s an element of a plan, a financial tactic to reduce the cost of the budget. It is NOT a plan to maximize recycling and composting and minimize landfilled waste. Rahm Emanuel said he was going to hit the ground running. It seems to us as though he hit the ground and sprained his ankle.
The plan privatizes four of six service areas and very generously “allows” City employees to compete in the other two. After six months, a cost-benefit analysis will be done to see how City employees performed compared to two private contractors. Oh, by the way, one of those companies, Waste Management--the major player in the discredited “Blue Bag” program, which was mercifully discontinued in 2008--will handle three of the four private sectors. The other area will be served by Midwest Metal Management.
We encourage you to read the information that is linked here, and then consider these questions that we at the CRC believe need to be answered:
- How will success be measured--by number of households placing the appropriate recyclables in the appropriate containers? By a reduction in the amount of waste to be hauled away, hence lower landfill costs?
- By what criteria will the performance of the private workers be compared to that of the City/union work force? Will the private companies be required to provide a detailed financial breakdown of their operations? Where will the numbers be posted?
- How much money will privatization really save? The City’s website says that “the current Blue Cart Recycling program services 240,000 homes at a cost of $13.8 million to the City. Bids from private sector companies have come in at approximately $6.6 million.” However, the Chicago Tribune puts that second number at $10.5 million.
- If the private companies provide cheaper recycling services, the public should be able to evaluate what factors allow them to do so while also making a profit. Is it more efficient management? Better access to recycling markets? A look at earlier bids from private haulers makes it clear that the biggest cost savings was from paying workers less--a lot less.
- What plans are there to build greater community participation in waste reduction and recycling?
- Which of the competitors leave the smaller carbon footprint? How is that measured?
- If the private haulers–or City workers– don't meet what are now rather vague expectations, will they be released after six months?
- Is there any reason to believe that this isn’t simply “stealth privatization” under the guise of a “fair” competition? Is trash collection next?
The City says that four months after the program begins, 20,000 households will be tacked on (a drop in the blue bucket), and that, in 2012, there will be additional households added. No numbers are given. As of this writing, approximately 360,000 households are without blue carts. Remember that, when the Daley Administration began the Blue Cart Program, the goal for finishing the roll was the end of this year. Now there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
Worse than that, blue carts are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to recycling in Chicago. After years of cheap talk and failed task forces, the City’s high rises and multi-unit buildings have been pretty much left to fend for themselves. The so-called “Burke-Hansen” ordinance, which covers recycling for those structures, is simply not enforced and never has been.
The point is that we have a long way to go. We invite the Emanuel Administration to work with the CRC, local environmental leaders, national recycling experts, and yes, labor, to develop a comprehensive waste reduction and recycling plan. We need to take off the blinders and seriously study how other cities have accomplished what we have only started. Please read our initial research and proposals (links in the sidebar on this page). We will continue with this level of analysis and advocacy until Chicago's new administration develops and implements responsible, sustainable, and environmentally sound recycling reform for the whole city.