Garbage Collection May Lose Personal Touch

New garbage trucks pick up trash faster but leave more behind

Chicagoans might take their garbage collection service for granted. From overflowing trash bins to broken furniture, it gets picked up and hauled away. It's enough to make some suburbanites jealous.

But city dwellers shouldn't get too comfortable.

City Hall is evaluating the cost of 200 "automated, side-loading refuse trucks." The new vehicles would only require one driver who works alone, instead of the current standard of three employees per truck. The new trucks feature a mechanical arm that would pick up garbage carts and bins automatically, so the two extra manual laborers wouldn't be needed.

While that might sound cheaper for the city, "you get what you pay for," as the old adage goes. If trash bins are overloaded, drivers won't be picking up any garbage that spills out. Also, it's unlikely that bulk items like mattresses or old chairs will be picked up. And if the trash is located where the truck's mechanical arm can't reach it, (e.g., behind a fence or in a gangway) it won't get picked up at all.

"Chicago is unique in its garbage collection," said Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Union Local 1001. "Service is far beyond the suburbs [where] everything they pick up is an extra charge and anything outside the cart is extra."

Phillips, along with several other union leaders, also worry that the service cuts will lead to lay-offs.

Streets and Sanitation spokesperson Matt Smith told the Sun-Times that "there are no plans to reduce our labor force."

But what about all that garbage on the street that won't be collected?

"If people are putting things on top of the containers, as sometimes happens as you go down the alley, that becomes a problem," said Fleet Management Commissioner Howard Henneman. However, he believes this can "be corrected with an education campaign for residents."

Do you think Chicagoans can be "educated" to throw out their garbage more inconveniently?

Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and "between blogs" blogger, hates taking out the trash.

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