Ald. John Arena (45th) wants Chicago to seriously consider replacing its $9.50-a-month garbage collection fee with a volume-based rate to give homeowners a financial “incentive” to recycle — and boost a dismal 9 percent recycling rate. He  points to Chicago’s 7-cents-a-bag tax on paper and plastic bags and the success it has had in driving consumers to reduce bag use and landfill costs.

“Create an incentive. Like we did with the plastic bags. When we banned them, it didn’t work. When we created a financial incentive or disincentive from taking one of those single-use bags, there was an 80 percent drop in single-use bags,” Arena said.

“Let’s create a financial incentive for a resident to divert and participate in the recycling program. … We’ve already implemented a $10 per household fee for garbage. We just increased their costs. What if we tagged that to the number of black carts you had vs. the number of blue carts. We need to look at that.”

Arena also joined the Illinois Environmental Council in demanding a review of managed competition, which has allowed Waste Management to mark blue recycling carts as contaminated — even though that company has a “financial incentive to divert” the contents of those recycling bins to “landfills that they own.”

When recycling carts are slapped with “contaminated” stickers, Waste Management bypasses the carts, but is still paid recycling fees while city crews pick up the contaminated bins. That forces Chicago taxpayers to pay twice. The Better Government Association recently disclosed that 514,239 of the recycling bins branded as “grossly contaminated” — 90 percent of the contaminated total over a multi-year period — were tagged by Waste Management.

Recycling contracts with Waste Management and SIMS Metal Management already have been extended for one year. Arena said the City Council needs more information to determine whether managed competition is working, or whether the contracts should be “re-negotiated” or canceled. “Waste Management, which covers my area, has been systematically diverting recyclables to the landfill, which we end up paying for,” Arena said.

“I have to know why entire blocks of my ward have been tagged as contaminated when these are dedicated people who recycle and do it effectively. What is a level of contamination that is acceptable? There’s no standard. We don’t know what quantifies contaminated.”

On the hot seat Thursday at City Council budget hearings, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Tully continued to emphasize education over financial incentives. Tully told aldermen he has reassigned four laborers to ride herd over private recycling contractors and keep a close eye on contaminated carts. Hand-held computers will help them and private contractors compile specific information about the nature of that contamination.

“There was enough blame to go around on the way even the city was handling this. Was it uniform? We want everything handled consistently. We would have that information. We’d make sure that we’re not just getting stickers slapped on `em. We’re gonna make sure that, in fact, there’s contamination,” the commissioner said.

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