Curbside Recycling Trashed

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Recycling Survey

Last month, Cleveland announced it was dumping its curbside recycling program due to budget constraints. Residents will still be able to drop-off their recyclables through a citywide program the city is now devising. But experts say the city's low 5% recycling rate will probably get lower as recycling becomes more inconvenient.
See the results of the survey here.

If you're one of those people who diligently separates metals, plastics and glass from your trash for weekly pick-up, you may be wondering what will happen to all those recyclables now that the city of Cleveland is abandoning its curbside recycling program. Your only option may be to drive your recyclables to the nearest drop-off station.

Pat Holland: The lack of convenience definitely lowers the participation rate.

That's Pat Holland, director of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District. It's his business to track where trash goes - and how much of it is being recycled.

Pat Holland: Cleveland started curbside recycling around 1990... Haste makes waste, I guess. (chuckles) They really needed to have thought it through a little more.

Problems with labor contracts and overtime led to a scaling back of Cleveland's initial citywide efforts at curbside recycling. Most recently, only the west side had curbside pick-up. If you live on the east side, you had to take your recyclables to a drop-off center. Now that all Clevelanders will be faced with the same choice, Holland believes recycling will probably drop off, too.

Just off North Royalton Road near Interstate 77, the last municipal landfill in Cuyahoga County is getting ready to close. Some of Cleveland's trash is still trucked here, although most now goes out of the county. John Frola of Norton Environmental - which runs the landfill - says there's literally a mountain of trash under our feet.

John Frola: Approximately 100 acres with a total capacity of 11 or 12 million cubic yards. We're in the process of building a transfer station that will continue to allow municipalities and private contractors to transfer to over-the-road trucks and be taken to a landfill farther away. The next ring of landfills is approximately 40, 50, 60 miles away from Cuyahoga County and it does add additional expense.

Rising transportation costs, as landfills are located farther away from urban centers, won't immediately affect Cleveland residents. But with collection, hauling and tipping fees, landfilling trash can cost between $75 and $100 a ton. Still, Cleveland Public Service director Mark Ricchiuto says it costs the city more to recycle than to landfill.

Mark Ricchiuto: It actually costs us $6 more per ton to recycle material than to landfill it. The total cost of the program, in terms of disposal and staff, is $820,000 the city would save by eliminating the curbside recycling program.

Recycling is generally considered an expense by cities which have to pay for labor-intensive neighborhood collection. And Cleveland isn't the only city in Ohio considering scaling back recycling to save money. But Ron Kolbash, who heads the state's Division of Recycling and Litter Prevention, says even limited recycling can help save other resources.

Ron Kolbash: Any tons that we can divert extends the landfill life. Recycling does conserve natural resources. It almost always requires less energy, so there's less pollution. I mean, it's the right thing to do.

And recycling can make money for companies willing to make the investment. A new trend in post-disposal recycling is saving some trash contractors as much as 40% of their landfill space. But Ohio's landfills are still relatively cheap, while recycling markets are in constant flux. So Cleveland will probably not be the last city in the state to dump its curbside recycling program in the gutter. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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