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Cleveland Still Awaiting Answers On Dormant Recycling Program

A truck unloads recycling at Kimble Companies in Twinsburg. [Mary Fecteau and Margaret Cavalier / ideastream]
A truck unloads recycling at Kimble Companies in Twinsburg.

Some preliminary guidance on how to restart the City of Cleveland’s stalled recycling program may come before the end of the year, Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown told city council Monday.

Waste consultant GT Environmental is examining every corner of the city’s trash and recycling system, with plans to deliver a draft report by the middle or end of December, Brown said. But a firmer plan of action may not take shape until the second quarter of 2021.

“We need to understand where the market is, and we need a contract,” Brown said. “Which means we’d have to go out for some type of procurement process, and you know how long that can take.”

In April, Mayor Frank Jackson acknowledged the city was hauling Clevelanders’ recyclables to the landfill with other trash, thanks to the cratering price of recyclable material driven by China’s decision to stop accepting reusable U.S. waste. The high contamination rate of the city's recyclables has also posed challenges. 

Council members pressed for more details on when the city will resuscitate its recycling program at Monday’s finance committee meeting, saying they — and the public — should have more input on the study process.

“Our residents want to know when is this coming back and what does it look like,” Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack said. “And we get those calls, tweets, texts every single day.”

Ward 15 Councilwoman Jenny Spencer asked how to explain to residents why the city still picks up trash and recycling separately, even though both waste products end up in the same place.

“Residents are still — for those who are aware of the challenges of the recycling program — they just don’t get it,” Spencer said. “They don’t understand why we’re still putting out blue bins.”

Clevelanders should continue separating trash and recycling, keeping the habit up while the city retools its program, Brown said.

GT Environmental began its study Aug. 28 and is evaluating how the city handles recycling, garbage, illegal dumping, public outreach and other facets of the waste pickup operation.

“They met with the managers, they met with supervisors, they met with the rank-and-file employees, they rode the routes with them, asked questions, so it was a very thorough engagement,” Brown said.

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