Streets and Sanitation – Reduce the Number of Garbage Carts in Service and Switch to a Regional, Grid-based System of Garbage Collection

Savings: $46.7 million

The Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) collects garbage weekly from 600,000 households along

350 daily routes.[1]  The City has long organized garbage collection services on a ward-by-ward basis, whereby laborers and motor truck drivers who collect garbage are assigned to individual wards and work on truck routes that do not cross ward boundaries.  By contract, the City’s recycling pickup is organized based on a regional routing system that does not take into account ward boundaries.

The table below details the positions devoted to garbage collection and the estimated costs for garbage collection in 2011 and 2012.

Personnel Costs


Budget Number of Full Time Equivalents

Current Annual Payroll

Fringe Benefits @ 35% of Salary

Total Compensation Costs

2012 Costs with 3.5% Increase in Salary

Sanitation Laborers






Motor Truck Drivers*






Supervisory and Clerical Staff- Refuse






Supervisory and Clerical Staff- Waste Disposal












* Includes 1 Chief Dispatcher Position

Non Personnel Costs

Number of Trucks

Daily Cost per Truck

Annual Cost Per Truck

Total Annual Costs in 2011

Total Annual Costs in 2012

Truck Costs-Refuse Collection*






 * Corrected from printable version, which reads Truck Costs- Recycling Collection

Waste Disposal Costs



Grand Total



Note #1: Assumes that the health insurance and pension benefits for these employees are worth 35 percent of their salaries
Note #2. Hours worked are converted to full-time equivalent positions at a rate of 2,040 hours per year
Note #3. This ignores additional costs due to overtime or savings due to personnel vacancies.
Note #4. This assumes that only Sanitation Laborers and Motor Truck Drivers will receive salary increase in 2012
Note #5: Assumes no increase in Waste Disposal or Truck Costs in 2012
Note #6: Annual truck costs assume 252 operating days annually

Under this option, the City would substantially reduce the number of garbage carts in service and shift its garbage collection to a regional, grid-based system.

By comparing the efficiency of recycling collection with garbage collection, we can estimate what efficiencies might be achieved through a regional, grid-based system of garbage collection.  According to DSS data, the City currently has 45 recycling routes.[2]  Assuming that these trucks are all continually operational, the City is providing recycling services to 241,000 households every other week using 45 daily routes.[3]  The table below compares the difference in the number of household pickups per hour between garbage collection and recycling.

Households Served

Frequency of Pickups

Annual Household Pickups

Daily Routes

Annual Household Pickups per Daily Route per day[4]

Hours of Collection[5]

Household Pickups Per Hour

Garbage Collection using Ward System


Once a week






Recycling Collection using Regional Routing


Once every other week






The table shows that recycling collection, which uses regional routing, averages significantly more household pickups per route than garbage collection, which uses the ward system. This is despite the fact that recycling trucks only have one laborer assigned, while some garbage trucks have two.

However, this analysis fails to take into account the number of garbage and recycling carts in service.  According to City data, the City has 1.5 million garbage carts and 220,000 recycling carts.[6]  The table below reproduces the chart above using cart pickups to compare the efficiency of the garbage and recycling collection and shows that garbage crews conduct over twice as many cart pickups per hour as the recycling crews.  So while the recycling crews are serving more households per hour, the garbage crews are servicing more than double the number of carts per hour.

Carts in Service

Frequency of Pickups

Annual Cart Pickups

Daily Routes

Annual Cart Pickups per Daily Route per day

Hours of Collection

Cart Pickups Per Hour

Garbage Collection using Ward System


Once a week






Recycling Collection using Regional Routing


Once every other week






Thus, in order for garbage collection to serve as many households per hour as the current recycling crews, a large reduction in the number of garbage carts in service would be necessary.  If the City were to provide the same number of garbage carts per household as the number of recycling carts per household, it would provide approximately 550,000 carts Citywide.[7]  This would be a reduction of 950,000 carts from the current 1.5 million in service.  Even with this over 60 percent reduction in the number of garbage carts, there would still be sufficient capacity in the City’s garbage carts to handle the amount of waste City residents dispose of.  The chart below compares the waste capacity of 1.5 million garbage carts to 550,000 carts using the City’s current waste disposal statistics.

Current Capacity of Garbage System

Capacity of System after over 60 percent  Reduction in Carts




Pound limit per cart[8]



Annual Pickups



Total Number of Pickups (carts times annual pickups)



Capacity in Tons (total pickups times cart pound limit divided by 2,000 (pounds per ton))



Annual Tons Disposed by City (2010 estimate)[9]



Average pounds of refuse per cart pickup



Percent of capacity in use



The chart shows that even reducing the number of garbage carts to 550,000 there would still be sufficient capacity to handle the average garbage being disposed weekly in the City’s garbage carts.

If the number of carts was reduced to 550,000 and garbage collection averaged the same number of household pickups per hour, as recycling collection, the number of daily routes could be reduced to 276, or a 21.1% reduction.[10]  Assuming that a 21.1% reduction in routes would yield a 21.1% reduction in staffing devoted to garbage collection, the table below details the reduction in personnel and associated personnel costs that would be realized.


Reduction in Employees

2011 Compensation Costs

2012 Compensation Costs

Sanitation Laborer




Motor Truck Driver




Supervisory and Clerical Staff- Refuse




Supervisory and Clerical Staff- Waste Disposal









The table shows that if the City were to reduce the number of carts in service and move to a grid-based routing system for garbage collection and achieve the same household pickups per hour that the regional routing of recycling collection is currently achieving, the City might reduce its 2011 personnel costs by up to $24.5 million through the elimination of up to 266 positions.  Because of contractual increases in personnel costs, the savings from implementing this option would grow in 2012. The 2012 salaries of Laborers and Motor Truck Drivers will be higher due to collective bargaining agreements, which call for salary increases of 3.5% in 2012.[11]  Assuming that there are no increases in salaries for the other positions, the table shows that the cost of these 266 positions would be $25.2 million in 2012.

In addition to the savings from a reduction in the number of daily routes, additional savings would be generated by reducing the number of laborers on the remaining routes to one laborer per truck since that is how the recycling crews are currently staffed.  The City recently stated that it needs a relief laborer force of 15 percent of the total number of routes on its recycling trucks.[12]  Assuming that garbage collection needs the same relief percentage, with 276 collection routes the City would need 318 laborers to fully staff the 276 routes.  This means that the number of laborers could be reduced by an additional 180 if staffing was reduced to one laborer per truck.[13]  At an average compensation of $88,742 their total compensation in 2011 is budgeted at $16 million.  The 2012 compensation will be higher due to the Laborers collective bargaining agreement, which calls for a salary increase of 3.5% in 2012.  Thus, the compensation for these 180 positions will cost $16.5 million in 2012.

These savings will be slightly reduced because under the current collective bargaining agreement with the Laborers Union, sanitation laborers working on one-laborer garbage trucks are to be paid 9 percent more than their regular hourly rate.[14]  Thus, the reduction in 180 laborers would on average result in 180 additional laborers working on a one-laborer garbage truck, resulting in a 9 percent increase in their salaries.  This would cost an additional $1.5 million in 2012.

Finally, there would be savings from operating 74 fewer trucks. The table below shows the City’s estimate for the daily costs of running a recycling truck.

Truck Costs

Per Hour Cost

Per Day Cost

Operations and Maintenance



Fuel Costs








Assuming 252 days of operation per year, this translates to approximately $86,600 a year to operate a recycling truck.  Assuming the same costs for a garbage truck, the savings from operating 74 fewer trucks would be $6.4 million.  The table summaries these different savings and cost elements.

2012 Savings/(Costs)

Proportional Staffing Reduction from 21% Fewer Routes


Reduction of 180 Laborers


9% Increase in pay for remaining laborers


Savings from 74 Less Trucks




Therefore, the total estimated savings from substantially reducing the number of carts in service, switching to a grid-based system of garbage collection, and reducing the number of laborers on the remaining routes to 1 would be $46.7 million.

Proponents might argue that reducing the number of garbage carts in service would not impact residents because there would be sufficiency capacity to handle the City’s waste disposal needs.  Separately, organizing garbage collection on a ward-by-ward basis is inefficient and wasteful.  They would argue that organizing collection by regional grid would reduce the time it takes for workers to get from the ward yard to the routes and routes could be organized to reduce the distance from route to dumpsite. They may also cite an OIG investigation in 2008 that found that garbage collection crews worked, on average, only 75 percent of the work day, indicating that there was not enough work for the collection crews to perform.[15] Additionally, they might cite the fact that Streets and Sanitation decided to organize recycling collection on a regional, grid-based system in order to deliver the service more cheaply.[16] Opponents might argue that reducing the number of garbage carts in service amounts to a large reduction in service for City residents.  While there may still be sufficient average capacity to handle the City’s waste disposal needs, there will not be sufficient capacity to handle inevitable spikes in garbage disposal.  Separately, other might argue that the ward-based system provides better customer service than a more centralized grid system.  Some might also argue that garbage collection has long been a primary responsibility of the City’s aldermen and that this has resulted in cleaner streets, timelier pickups, and satisfied residents.


Discussion and Additional Questions

In our analysis of this option last year, we compared the relative efficiency of the City’s garbage collection and recycling collection operations using household pickups per hour as the point of comparison.  However, this approach neglected to take into account the number of carts in service in each of the two programs.  As the analysis above shows, comparing the number of cart pickups per hour shows that recycling collection using regional routing is not more efficient in terms of cart pickups per hour.  The increased efficiency of the City’s recycling collection in terms of household pickups per hour stems from the fact that there are far fewer recycling carts per household than garbage carts per household.  Thus, the savings from this option as presented here are primarily derived from reducing the number of carts in service.

However, this analysis is only one approach to comparing the relative efficiency of ward and grid-based collection, so we should not conclude that there are no efficiency gains to be achieved from switching to a grid-based garbage collection system, while holding the number of carts in service constant.  Analysis of the collection systems in place in other jurisdictions may provide a better approach.  However, because of differences in the density, climate, and street layout between Chicago and many of the nation’s other large cities, these comparisons can be difficult.  Some questions to consider when conducting a comparison with other jurisdictions:

  • What is the ratio of total annual pickups (both in terms of households and carts) to collection routes?
  • How many carts per household are in service?
  • Is the density and street layout of the jurisdiction comparable to Chicago?
  • Does the jurisdiction use alleys to house its garbage carts?

Budget Details

Dept: Streets and Sanitation, 81 Bureau: Sanitation, 2020
Fund: Corporate Fund, 0100 Approp Code: Salaries and Wages, 0005
The appropriation is located on page 223 and the position schedule beings on page 224 of the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.


[1] City of Chicago. Department of Streets and Sanitation. Sanitation (Garbage Collection, Street Sweeping and Residential Recycling)

[2] City of Chicago. Laborers Union Arbitration on Recycling Privatization. Exhibit 2 Cost Comparison.

[3] City of Chicago. Department of Streets and Sanitation. Blue Cart Recycling Program.

[4] Calculation= (Annual Pickups) divided by (Number of Daily Routes) divided by (Number of Days Routes Operate- Assume 250 based on Monday thru Friday collection and no collection on holidays)

[5] Because garbage collection collects significantly more tonnage per route, workers spend less time collecting because the trucks must make more frequent trips to dump their loads. In 2008, the average load dumped at City-owned dumpsites was 6.65 tons.  This is based on 2008 data on the three City-owned Materials Recycling and Recovery Facilities (MRRFs). There were 591,910 tons dumped at these three MRRFs in 89,058 loads in 2008. This does not include the tonnage per load data from the one non-City owned MRRF. Source: Contract #21472.

Under these assumptions, garbage collection is interrupted by one dump during the 8-hour collection shift, while recycling collection is not.  Assuming an average dump takes 1.5 hours, garbage is collected an average of 6.5 hours per route per day, while recycling is collected for the full 8-hour collection shift.  Based on the average tons collected per route per day, garbage collection averages 1.65 loads per day and recycling averages 0.7 loads per day. For simplicity, assume that garbage collection dumps two loads per day and recycling dumps one load per day, and one load in each program is dumped after the 8-hour collection shift is over through the City’s night shuttle program.

Source: City of Chicago. Department of Streets and Sanitation. Residential Garbage Collection.

[6] Sources: City of Chicago. Laborers Union Arbitration on Recycling Privatization. Exhibit 2 Cost Comparison

City of Chicago. “Request a  garbage cart.”

[7] Currently, there are 220,000 recycling carts serving 241,000 households, for a rate of .913 carts per household.  To serve 600,000 households at the same carts per household rate, would require almost 548,000 carts.  For simplicity, we have rounded this to 550,000.

[8] Load rating for 96-gallon Cascade Cart Solution garbage cart, which is the vendor the City recently contracted with to provide its recycling carts.  This assumes the City’s garbage carts are essentially the same as this cart.

[10] 350 times (1 minus.2114)= 276

[11] City of Chicago. “Collective Bargaining Agreement Between Teamsters Local 726 and City of Chicago.” Appendix A.

City of Chicago. “Collective Bargaining Agreement Between Locals 1001, 1092, and 76 of the Laborers International Union of North America and City of Chicago.” Exhibit C.

[12] City of Chicago. Laborers Union Arbitration on Recycling Privatization. Exhibit 2 Cost Comparison.

In the recent arbitration regarding contracting the City’s recycling collection to private firms, the City submitted a cost comparison between Streets and Sanitation performing recycling and the private contractors’ bids that were submitted to the City.

[13] Reduction in laborers from 21.1% reduction in across the board staffing 631-133=498.  If only an estimated 318 are needed to staff 276 remaining routes, 498-318= 180 additional laborer positions to be eliminated.

[14] City of Chicago. “Collective Bargaining Agreement Between Locals 1001, 1092, and 76 of the Laborers International Union of North America and City of Chicago.” Section 11.7.2 pg. 88.

[15] City of Chicago. Office of Inspector General. “Waste and Falsification in the Bureau of Sanitation.” October 7, 2008.

[16] City of Chicago. “City shifting to Blue Cart Recycling program by end of 2011.” May 6, 2008.