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City Council Concern Over Recycling Performance Includes Possibility of Waste Hauling Franchising

February 23, 2021


The City Council Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight and the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy recently held a joint subject matter hearing to examine an Office of the Inspector General audit published in December that found issues with the City’s Department of Streets and Sanitation enforcement of the recycling program for commercial properties and residential buildings.

The Chicago Recycling Ordinance was amended in 2017 to include stronger enforcement provisions for commercial and high-density residential property owners that are required to contract with private haulers to provide source-separated recycling services.

The hearing focused mainly on whether the Department of Streets and Sanitation was the most appropriate agency to enforce the ordinance that covers the hundreds of thousands of buildings requiring private recycling hauling.  However, during the discussions several ideas were offered as ways to increase recycling rates, including waste hauling franchising.

BOMA/Chicago has opposed waste hauling franchising in the past. Under such arrangements, zones are created and an exclusive waste hauling contract is awarded in each zone based on competitive bid.  Exclusive franchise agreements lead to higher costs for buildings due to the loss of choice in haulers, and the elimination of a competitive environment for recycling and waste hauling.  Past comparative data indicated that waste hauling costs were from 100% to 400% higher in municipalities with exclusive waste hauling franchises than they were for commercial buildings in Chicago.

Commercial high rise office buildings in the Central Business District have responded to market demands for responsible recycling programs.  With in-place recycling efforts, most buildings already attain impressive recycling rates and it is not uncommon for many to realize a revenue stream as a result of their existing solid waste management and recycling practices.

However, with over 500,000 households in high density buildings, and over 60,000 licensed businesses in Chicago required to procure private waste hauling and recycling services, enforcement will continue to be a concern and may push officials to enact more aggressive policies.

No amendment to the ordinance seems imminent, but with the audit’s findings getting the attention of the City Council, BOMA/Chicago member buildings may want to talk to their waste haulers and begin compiling some data about the recycling compliance in their buildings.