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Cleveland plans to restart recycling program in March

After being dormant for months, Cleveland's recycling program could get running again in March. Here, workers separate refuse at Waste Management's material recovery facility in Akron. [Carter Adams / WKSU]
Workers separate refuse at Waste Management's material recovery facility in Akron.

Ren Brumfield’s job at the city of Cleveland is to help bring the recycling program back from the dead.

Brumfield started work as the city’s recycling coordinator last October, in the waning days of Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration. That was 18 months after the then-mayor acknowledged that trash and recyclables were “going to the same place.”

Last month, the city and a potential vendor couldn’t reach a contract agreement, one more setback for recycling in town.

Cleveland now aims to restart the program in March of this year, Brumfield said. So what does a recycling coordinator do when there’s no recycling to coordinate?

“I am getting together a lot of literature, guides and all that, that goes out to the public,” Brumfield told Ideastream Public Media. “Because right now, we’re at a standstill—in a way. There’s a lot of stuff working behind the scenes so we can get things lined up, so we’re ready when we do have a vendor in place.”

Brumfield’s plans include preparing a recycling guide book for households. He’ll also send out stickers for the blue bins that spell out what can and can’t be recycled.

That could be crucial for cutting down Cleveland’s high contamination rate, which a study last year charted at 62%. That means a lot of the city’s blue bins contained things that weren’t recyclable, like yard waste.

Other refuse, like cartons or certain glass bottles, might or might not be recyclable depending on what the vendor can process, Brumfield said. And then there’s “wish-cycling,” when people toss borderline recyclables in their blue bins in the hopes that the city can process them.

“One thing that I can do that will help to fix that is to educate,” Brumfield said.

When recycling is resurrected in Cleveland, it will start smaller. About 27,000 households have signed up for the program. That’s about 18% of the 155,000 households the city’s Division of Waste Collection usually serves.

From there, the program will grow, Brumfield said.

“The idea is that we will get these 27,000, start this program, really get it working well, and communicate with everyone,” he said. “And then we’ll expand it.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.