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After two years, Cleveland's curbside recycling program returns June 13

A hand holds a sticker that reads "Recycle Cleveland" up to a blue recycling bin
Sustainable Cleveland
City of Cleveland
Cleveland is sending information packets and stickers to residents who opt in to the city's new recycling program.

Cleveland will restart its curbside recycling program June 13, more than two years after the then-mayor acknowledged the city’s recyclables were headed to the same place as the trash.

Residents will have to sign up to take part in the smaller, opt-in program. Already about 32,000 households have enrolled, according to city recycling coordinator Ren Brumfield. The city is accepting new sign ups until July 31, he said.

Brumfield said he is spreading the word about the new program at neighborhood events.

“What I really want to emphasize right now is that I want people to join the program, and we’re going to give all this extra time to make sure that people can learn about it and join in,” he said.

The list of recyclable items includes paper, newspapers and magazines, cardboard boxes, paper bags, plastic bottles and jugs, metal cans and cups, cartons and glass bottles and jars. Paper and plastic cups – the sort a customer might receive at a coffee shop – are also recyclable, although plastic party cups are not, Brumfield said.

A full list of items is available here.

Recyclables should be thrown loose – not bagged – in residents’ blue bins. Brumfield recommends rinsing out containers before recycling them.

“When you talk about peanut butter jars and mayonnaise jars, that stuff sticks in there. So those are the ones that are going to require the most cleaning,” he said. “Typically I just put a little water in there, put the top back on and shake it up until it’s loose, and it’s good.”

The city is sending information packets to those who have signed up, along with stickers residents can place on their blue bins to indicate they’re part of the program, Brumfield said.

The effort to resurrect the recycling program stretched from the end of Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration to the beginning of Mayor Justin Bibb’s.

Cleveland’s previous recycling contract expired in April 2020. At the time, city officials cited the program’s cost and global disruptions in the recycling market. Cleveland’s high contamination rate also posed challenges, they said.

A consultant hired by the city recommended restarting the program on a smaller scale, making it available only to residents who sign up. A deal with a potential vendor to restart the program fell through in late 2021.

In late March, Cleveland approved a $1.5 million contract with Rumpke, which will haul recyclables from the city’s transfer station to the company’s processing facilities.

Rumpke works with domestic processors, including facilities in Ohio, Brumfield said. And though some recyclable items are valuable in the market, the city isn’t making money on the program, he said.

“It costs us money regardless when we recycle,” Brumfield said. “And the main reason we want to do it is because it’s the right thing to do, because it reduces the waste going into the landfill and it keeps our city cleaner.”

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