Chicago's New Program Goes Beyond The Basics

Funding additional costs for state-mandated recycling is a problem in Chicago, as it is in many large cities. The steadily rising costs of solid waste transfer and disposal, especially in urban areas which do not control disposal capacity within their corporate limits, make funding recycling programs from existing budgets difficult.

Budgets for new programs like re-cycling must compete with a multiplicity of other programs for limited funds.

One common approach in suburban areas combines a separate collection and processing system for recyclables with an existing MSW collection, processing and transfer system. Many areas even add a third, parallel system for yard waste collection and composting.

Collection and processing costs for such systems reportedly range from $98 to $138 per ton after credit for revenue from recovered material sales. Costs for large cities have been reported between $100 and $266 per ton, according to figures compiled by Governmental Advisory Associates in 1991.

These costs do not include yard waste collection and composting costs. Even after subtracting the sa-vings from avoided disposal cost, the net impact on city budgets can be substantial.

In response to these challenges, Chicago's new solid waste system combines recyclables collection and processing with yard waste collection and composting, mixed MSW processing, bulky waste and MSW transfer and disposal into one integrated system that uses common facilities.

With a population of approximately 3 million and an annual solid waste generation of almost 4 million tons, managing Chicago's MSW is a significant undertaking.

The city's Department of Streets and Sanitation collects about 1.1 million tons per year from more than 650,000 households, and city crews separately collect about 300,000 tons per year of bulky and demolition waste. Private haulers collect the remaining residential and commercial MSW.

About 40 percent of the city-collected residential waste is disposed at the city-owned Northwest Waste-to-Energy Facility, and the remainder is tipped at several privately-operated transfer stations, where it is hauled to landfill disposal sites. Remaining MSW landfills in the city have limited capacity, and a city ordinance prevents future landfill development. Contracts for transfer and disposal are bid to private contractors on a relatively short-term basis, usually three years.

The city completed a comprehensive solid waste management planning process in 1992 that calls for meeting the Illinois-mandated planning goal to divert 25 percent of solid waste by 1996. Chicago has established drop-off recycling locations and other programs to encourage recycling in all 50 wards.

Since 1989, the city also has sponsored several recycling demonstration programs to analyze the effectiveness of different recycling systems, including blue-bag collection.

The city's goals in developing the plan were to consolidate and upgrade transfer facilities to more stringent environmental standards, provide long-term control over disposal cost and minimize recyclables and yard waste collection and processing costs through co-collection with MSW and processing in multi-function facilities.

When the program goes into operation in 1995, city residents will place recyclables, including ferrous and aluminum containers, glass containers, plastics, newsprint and other paper, into blue plastic bags. Newsprint will be collected in separate bags. Residents also will be asked to put yard waste (unless backyard-composted) into heavy-duty kraft bags. Blue bags and mixed MSW will be placed in city-provided refuse containers to be collected weekly, along with yard waste bags, on regular collection days.

The program also will include four new material recovery and recycling facilities (MRRFs) to process and transfer the collected MSW and bags in areas around the city. These include:

* Northern: An existing city-owned incinerator which has been out of service since the mid 1970s and will be demolished.

* Northwestern: The MRRF will share a common wall with the tipping hall of this existing city-owned WTE facility. MSW will be conveyed directly to the WTE's storage pit after processing.

* Southwestern: The site of a supplemental fuel plant, the structure will be renovated and expanded.

* Southern: A privately-owned site adjacent to the CID landfill.

Each MRRF is designed with a 1,600 tons-per-day capacity on a two-shift basis and will receive all of the city-collected residential waste.

The MSW containing co-collected bagged recyclables and bagged yard waste will be deposited by city packer trucks on a tipping floor where bulky waste will be separated prior to processing and moved to the transfer area. The waste will be staged on the tipping floor until being moved onto the infeed conveyors of two separate 75 tons-per-hour processing lines by front-end loaders.

Plastic bags of recyclables and kraft bags of yard waste will be hand-picked at the initial picking stations. Yard waste bags will be conveyed to roll-off containers for transfer to off-site processing and composting, while recyclables will be conveyed onto separate processing lines which will open the bags, separate them for recycling and sort the recyclables into marketable categories using hand-picking and mechanical sorting.

Glass will be color-sorted for shipment and other materials will be baled. The remaining mixed MSW will be further processed through a multi-stage trommel screen, hand-picking and other mechanical sorting stages to remove additional recyclable material. Any remaining MSW, or end waste, at the Northern, Southwestern and Southern facilities will be deposited in a floor storage area, loaded into open-top transfer trailers and hauled to a landfill or to the Northwest WTE Facility.

The city selected Waste Management of Illinois Inc. to design, construct, test and operate the MRRFs under four separate contracts. Generally, the contracts have the following features:

* Design. The contractor will establish a design that is consistent with the concept and performance specifications established in the contracts. The city will review and approve final design before construction starts.

* Construction. The contracts establish a fixed facility price for the two publicly financed MRRFs and fixed annual capital burden fees for the three privately financed MRRFs. The fixed facility price ranges from $15 to $16 million, depending on the site.

The acceptance test, established in the contract, will run for five consecutive days and will test throughput, recovery efficiencies and environmental compliance in accordance with the acceptance guarantees. In the event of test failure, the contract establishes the opportunity for a re-test and a contractor buydown if performance is above a minimum level.

* Operation. After acceptance, the operating provisions of the contracts take effect. The initial term of operation is seven years, with one-year extensions by mutual agreement up to 20 years.

The processing fee is fixed for the first two operating years, then escalates with an inflation adjustor. The disposal fee is fixed until acceptance in 1995, then escalates with a landfill disposal market escalator capped at 5 percent per year for the first three years and 8 percent per year for the next 7 years. The contractor guarantees to process all delivered waste up to a daily maximum, and the city guarantees to "put or pay" a daily minimum.

The contractor also guarantees to recover, in aggregate (which includes recyclable materials and yard waste), 25 percent of the processed tonnage on an average annual basis. This figure will be 10 percent in the first year of operation.

If actual recovery is greater than 25 percent, the city pays an additional recovery fee according to a formula that shares the city's benefit from avoided disposal fee payments. On the other hand, if actual recovery is less than 25 percent annually, the contractor bears the additional disposal cost.

The contracts give the contractor the revenue from the sale of recovered materials. In return, the city bears no market risk for the value of recovered materials.

* Public Education. The contractor is required to contribute $2 million for each MRRF ($8 million total) to the city for public education to promote residents' participation in the recycling program. These contributions are to be paid to the city on a schedule established by the contracts over the initial seven-year term.

Chicago's new program promises to accomplish several waste management goals. For instance, planners expect the system to divert more than 25 percent of the residential MSW for recycling; cap the city's disposal costs over 10 years; consolidate and upgrade transfer facility operations; minimize recyclables and yard waste collection costs through co-collection with MSW in common collection vehicles; and control processing costs by combining functions with transfer station operations in common facilities.

The estimated additional capital and processing cost for this program is anticipated to be offset by the collection and disposal savings in comparison to traditional, separate curbside recyclables and yard waste collection combined with separate processing facilities.

While this program has been developed to meet Chicago's specific goals, other communities using transfer stations for long-distance hauling to landfills may find that going beyond their initial approach to recycling has advantages.