When city officials first made their pitch for bringing an exclusive franchising system to private garbage collection in Chicago, they pointed to several other municipalities [PDF]  that they said had boosted their recycling rates, cut garbage disposal fees, and reduced emissions from garbage trucks after implementing similar plans.

They didn’t bring up the example of St. Louis County—and understandably so.

To be sure, the layout of the unincorporated areas around St. Louis is far different from the city of Chicago’s. As are the politics, the demographics, the economics, and probably many other factors.

But a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows that the county offers a telling example of another sort—how a decision to impose a franchising system over and above the opposition of waste haulers and residents has created a confusing, costly mess.

Chicago’s plan has prompted a wave of concerns that something similar could happen here. When Chicago Department of Environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna testified during City Council budget hearings last week, several aldermen bluntly told her they weren’t on board with the new proposal. She promised that it was by no means in its final form, and reiterated the point in an interview this week.

“While there’s been consternation and misinformation and confusion about the whole thing, over the last two months we’ve gotten tremendous input from hospitals and retail associations, et cetera,” she said. “We’ve now taken that information and we’re back with their suggestions and saying, ‘Okay, if this is an issue, how do we work with it?’ So our next step is to bring back the representatives of all those organizations, including the National Solid Wastes Management Association, and our goal in the next phase is to have a set of meetings with all the representatives and talk through what we’ve come up with and see if there are alternative ways to do it.”

The conversations will likely continue at least through the winter, but Malec-McKenna emphasized that the city is committed to the goals if not the specifics of its proposal. “Who knows what it’ll end up looking like, frankly,” she said. “But I can’t see that anybody who will say they’re opposed to increased recycling and decreased costs for consumers–well, there may be some people opposed to that–and improved environmental impact. It’s kind of a no-brainer.”