Privatize recycling with caution

By Editorial Board

The Chicago Sun-Times recently broke the news that Mayor Richard M. Daley planned to sign a 10-year contract to privatize the city’s recycling programs. A union leader told the Sun-Times Daley planned to sign those contracts soon, rushing them through to pre-empt a union-backed ordinance to keep recycling work in-house among city workers.

While the loss of city jobs is regrettable, the current state of Chicago’s recycling program is, to put it bluntly, awful. Only one-third of Chicago households has its recycling picked up. The city halted its program to implement recycling in-house with city and union workers halfway into it and hasn’t made any moves to continue it since.

Third-party contractors, like Waste Management, already have the resources and infrastructure in place to coordinate curbside recycling pickup across the city, so hiring them is the most efficient way to get the programs implemented and running smoothly in the least amount of time.

However, awarding a 10-year contract to private companies to run all of Chicago’s recycling pickup without seeing their performances first seems irresponsible. Instead of awarding such long-term deals right off the bat, Daley’s administration should start the privatization with a shorter trial period and leave the long-term decision up to incoming Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who will have to deal with the outcome of privatization whether it ends up being successful or not.

Whatever deal ends up going through to privatize recycling should create jobs for Chicagoans. The contracts should require the independent contractors to primarily hire workers from within the city when implementing new programs. Just because those jobs won’t go to city employees anymore doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go to Chicago residents. If the contractors agree to such provisions, privatization could end up creating hundreds of much-needed jobs in communities around the city. The contractors should also be asked to use the blue recycling carts originally manufactured for Chicago’s initial recycling program so that $1 million investment doesn’t go to waste.

While it would have been ideal to keep the work in-house, privatization seems like the only efficient way to implement a successful Chicago recycling program any time soon. As long as the deal can create jobs and doesn’t end up forcing taxpayers to foot the bill, privatizing recycling might go down as Daley’s last major achievement on his way out of office.