Chicago plans to rein in 'excessive' refuse carts, not quite ready for PAYT
- Chicago's proposed 2018 budget overview includes plans for the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) to conduct a citywide refuse cart inventory with the goal of returning excess carts back to the respective ward's stock, as reported by the Chicago Sun Times. A pilot program this year found "many unused or underused" carts in two wards.
- This is seen as a potential time-saving and cost-saving measure, because all households are currently charged the same flat $9.50 per month fee, regardless of how many carts they have. Based on that fee, Chicago is projecting $61.2 million in collection revenues for 2017 and 2018 — up from $54.4 million in 2016.
- The cart consolidation proposal also revived discussions of a volume-based or pay-as-you-throw fee. The city maintains that isn't the goal of this cart inventory, even as some elected officials are supportive of the idea and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has said he wouldn't rule it out. One estimate from the city's inspector general found that an annual $100 fee per 96-gallon cart could yield up to $125 million per year in collection revenue, even when factoring in increased diversion.
Chicago's $9.50 fee was established in 2016 for all DSS-serviced single-family households and multi-unit buildings with four or fewer units. The increase in revenue since last year is mainly attributed to increased collection rates and more stringent late payment penalties. While reducing the number of carts wouldn't change revenue under this current system, it could lead to further collection efficiencies and free up money for other waste-related programs. One example, proposed in the 2018 budget, is funding for five new DSS crews focused on rodent control.
The 2018 budget also includes plans to purchase an additional 10,000 new carts on top of usual numbers, for a total $1.5 million cart investment. This may seem counterintuitive to the city's cart reduction goals, but it's reflective of the normal wear and tear in any program. Previous reports have shown that cart repair and replacement is one of the top reasons that residents call into the city's 311 hotline. Chicago has also drawn attention in the past for the fact that about 11% of its carts are damaged by "aggressive squirrels" each year.
Any potential cost-savings or revenue increases could be particularly helpful for Chicago's overall waste program as the city works to deal with other expenses. Low recycling participation or high contamination rates in some areas has led DSS to team up with The Recycling Partnership and begin testing cart tags to engage residents. Like many cities, Chicago is also dealing with expensive illegal dumping conditions and has considered increasing fines to offset the costs.
- Chicago Sun Times Will citywide ‘cart inventory’ be prelude to volume-based garbage fee?
- City of Chicago 2018 Budget Overview
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