Daley should privatize recycling

By Editorial Board

Mayor Daley recently announced the city is looking to privatize a slew of services, from the city pound to the Taste of Chicago, all in an effort to erase Chicago’s $654.7 million budget shortfall without raising taxes. Among that list was the city’s blue bin recycling program.

Although privatization has become a dirty word after the notorious parking meter fiasco, a private recycling program could have its benefits. The program, as it runs now,  serves 29 of Chicago’s 50 wards and is only available to buildings with four or fewer units. Larger companies need to hire private services if they want recycling pick-up, or residents can take recyclables to a city drop-off center.

The city’s out-of-date recycling system is Daley’s most heavily criticized shortcomming in his quest to make Chicago America’s greenest city.  Cash-strapped cities around the country have turned to private firms for part or all of their collection services, rather than cutting collection programs.

Cleveland has started fining residents who don’t recycle, as another way to generate revenue. High-tech chips within bins record how often the bin is moved to the curb, and if residents in question are found to have more than 10 percent recyclable material in their trash, they are fined $100.

If privatizing Chicago’s blue bins is the most fiscally advantageous way to save the program, it is in the city’s best interest to do what it takes in order for Chicago to keep recycling.

A more thorough program, however, should remain the ultimate goal. Rather than just considering the highest bidder, Daley should consider a program that will implement improvements Chicago can sustain. The more a city recycles, the less garbage needs to be picked up, which trims waste collection costs. Therefore, finding a company that can work to expand the program should be a priority.

Additionally,  a company that uses a double or triple-stream sorting process would improve the efficiency of the program, rather than the single-stream process that all 33 of Chicago’s recycling centers get funneled into now. Likewise, different processes might work better for different areas of the city. A company that can identify several methods for the most organized program possible would be ideal.

Chicago is long past due for an improved recycling program.  If the only way to achieve some or all of those improvements is to privatize recycling services, all we can ask is that bids are chiefly considered for the enhancements they would bring to the program, before the enhancements they might bring to the city budget.