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Competition For City Recycling Program Begins

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The competition has begun between city workers and private contractors for the right to run the city's recycling program.

On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne announced that the city would be divided into six zones for recycling. Two of those areas would be served by city workers and four would be served by two private contractors – Midwest Metal Management and Waste Management.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports


Waste Management's trademark green trucks will be operated by a single Teamster driver/laborer, who will drive the truck and empty blue recycling carts into the automatic dumping device on back.

"We – in just about every community we service – provide one man and one truck to service our residential customers," said Waste Management district manager Mark Dykema. "That's our method of business, method of operation across all of Chicagoland."

But how can the city crews – with drivers who never leave the cab, while one or sometimes two laborers work out back, all making more money than the single Waste Management worker – hope to win the competition for the city's recycling contract?

Streets and Sanitation worker Jesus Morales said Monday that he's confident city crews will beat out the private contractors, by "doing my job. As long as I do my job, I think they can't beat us."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said other city workers have echoed that sentiment.

"Commissioner Byrne was just telling me he was talking to city employees today and they're saying, 'We're ready, we're going to win this, we know how to do this. This is ours,'" Emanuel said. "That's an attitudinal change that did not exist just a short time ago. The notion of competition has already affected the attitude of city employees in the same way that those at either Waste Management or some of the other private companies – they've got to know they've got to win."

Still, the odds appear to be stacked against city workers. Waste Management claimed to be able to do this job for half what it now costs the city.

And don't think the mayor isn't thinking about the same thing when it comes to ordinary garbage collection.

"We spend, in the city of Chicago, $220 to $230 a ton to pick up garbage. Los Angeles is about $95 to $100 cheaper per ton," Emanuel said.

And don't think Waste management and others aren't looking there too.

"We provide garbage collection to just about every other community we provide recycling service to. So, to say that it's something that we'd be happy to provide the city would be correct," Dykema said.

Currently, about 240,000 Chicago homes have blue cart recycling and the city plans to add another 20,000 homes to the program early next year.

The mayor said he plans to evaluate the results of the competition next spring, then he'll decide how to proceed. Emanuel said the competition would be judged both on cost and on the efficiency and quality of service.

More than just the city's recycling program could be at stake.

Emanuel asked time and again on Monday, "what's our mission?" in talking about recycling, health care and even public safety.

Read between the lines and you get the first hint to prepare people for painful surprises in his 2012 budget due out next week.

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