City signs three-year, $79.6 million contract with Lake Shore Recycling

By Paul Ploumis

Lake Shore Recycling will collect blue recycling carts with less than 50% contamination in four of Chicago’s six recycling regions, under a three-year, $79.6 million contract authorized by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration.

The company known as LRS was the lowest of four bidders for the long-awaited contract. But that’s not the only reason it won the high-stakes competition.

Lake Shore Recycling also has “more recycling assets than any other company in the Chicago area, including a state-of-the-art, single-stream recycling facility that can sort cardboard, mixed paper, glass, steel, other metals and plastics,” according to City Hall.

“The contract allows for penalties for missed collection and has a greater clarification around contamination. We believe these will help improve recycling rates,” Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Tully was quoted as saying in a press release.

There’s no place to go but up. After decades of failure, Chicago’s recycling rate still hovers around 8% or 9%.

“As part of DSS commitment to improve recycling rates, LRS will collect recycling with less than 50% contamination. This will ensure that more waste is getting recycled,” the press release states.

Recycling contracts with Waste Management and SIMS Metal Management that expired years ago, only to be extended repeatedly a year at a time, were finally re-bid last year.

Lake Shore will now replace those two companies, under a three-year contract that includes rigorous reporting requirements and penalties from $25 to $250 for every missed pickup.

City employees will continue to handle recycling pickups in the two remaining recycling regions.

At the same time, Lightfoot has asked the Delta Institute to study waste and recycling practices in other major cities and propose a “check list of things that have been successful elsewhere.”

Last fall, Deputy Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Chris Sauve gave aldermen a bit of a preview.

He argued on that day that Chicago’s embarrassingly low, single-digit recycling rate could “double overnight” if organics and yard waste were added to the mix.

For years, Chicago aldermen and the Illinois Environmental Council have demanded 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 they own and operate.

When recycling carts are slapped with “contaminated” stickers, Waste Management bypasses the carts, but is still paid recycling fees. City crews pick up the contaminated bins, meaning Chicago taxpayers pay twice.

For more than a decade, Chicagoans were asked to place plastics, cans, bottles and paper into blue bags and toss them in with routine garbage.

Within months of the 1995 launch, low participation had prompted environmental groups to denounce the blue bag program as a failure.

In 2008, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley finally gave up the ghost on blue bag recycling and ordered the switch to suburban-style blue carts he once dismissed as “cost-prohibitive.”

At the time, only 13% of city residents were bothering to participate, and an even lower percentage of their recyclables are actually diverted from the city’s 1.2 million tons a year of trash.

By the end of 2011, every Chicago household with city garbage pickup was supposed to make the shift to suburban-style curbside recycling from blue carts, instead of bags. But, the city ran out of money one-third of the way through.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office at a time when Chicago was a “tale of two cities” when it came to recycling. Some neighborhoods had blue carts. Others did not.

He managed to deliver citywide recycling only after saving millions by setting up a managed competition for recycling pickups between private contractors and city crews.

Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) has proposed that Chicago restaurants and carryout places be prohibited from using foam containers and required to provide plastic straws and food utensils only on request to curb “plastic pollution.”

Waguespack has also urged the Lightfoot administration to consider replacing Chicago’s $9.50-a-month garbage collection fee with a volume-based fee that gives people a financial incentive to recycle.