Cut down on the number of garbage trucks roaming Oak Park’s alleys and you’ll preserve the environment while saving business owners a few bucks. That’s the theory that Oak Park has been exploring for eight years. But with mounting opposition from the business community, the village scrapped the idea Monday.
Oak Park was considering contracting with one waste hauler to pick up garbage for businesses and multi-family buildings. Other cities such as Evanston and Skokie have done the same thing in the past. And years ago, Oak Park did a village-wide contract for single family homes with Waste Management.
But some business owners say they’d rather choose their own trash hauling service.
“I love my garbage man,” said Charles Williams, owner of Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home. “If I don’t like him, I’ll get someone else. You take the competition away, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Willis Johnson, owner of the Lake Theatre, said it was critical for businesses to be able to opt out of the village’s program. His point was one that had been made regularly by business owners to village officials in meetings on this subject over the past year. But the contract in front of the village board Monday required mandatory participation.
Chicago-based Groot Industries, the staff-recommended company, required 100 percent participation in Oak Park for its program to work. If businesses and buildings could opt out, Groot would be at a disadvantage, because the village would publish its prices for any competitor to see, officials said.
“An opt-out program is not the type of program we’d recommend,” said Karen Rozmus, waste reduction manager for the village. “It may be competitively detrimental to our hauler.”
But village trustees said they are not interested in a mandatory garbage program. Trustees suggested other ways to reach the same goals, like limiting the number of licensed haulers in Oak Park (there are currently 12), requiring recycling at businesses, and talking with garbage companies about other ways to improve the process.
“I really did think we were going to look at an opt out,” Trustee Jan Pate said.
The village sent out a request for proposals earlier this year. Seven waste haulers responded. Veolia and Groot were the two finalists. Veolia was cheaper, but staff recommended that the board pick Groot for its stronger environmental initiatives.
Several waste hauling companies were at Monday’s board meeting, objecting to Oak Park’s bidding process and the idea in general.
“We feel the bid process may have been compromised unintentionally,” said John Wisher with Allied Waste.
The runner-up questioned Groot’s offer of a free 96-gallon recycling cart program, saying no recycling is free.
“Veolia is a firm believer in the open market,” said Bob Pfister, municipal marketing manager.
The board was scheduled to vote on a contract with Groot Monday, free of an opt-out clause. But the board balked, with two absent trustees and no option to opt out. Rozmus said Monday that new state legislation takes effect in October that would require communities to wait 15 months before starting a program with one waste hauler.
Trustees decided to explore other options in the future to minimize the damage garbage trucks cause to the environment. After the meeting, Rozmus was unsure when that discussion might pick up again in the future.