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City pushes for more participation as opt-in deadline for new recycling program approaches

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Posted at 5:23 PM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 20:07:47-04

CLEVELAND — Less than two weeks remain before the Oct. 22 deadline for Cleveland residents serviced by the Division of Waste to opt in to the new, bi-weekly curbside recycling program. As of Tuesday morning, just shy of 10,000 customers have signed onto the Recycle Cleveland program, which officials hope will reduce cost and contamination issues.

Although the current number of enrollees is short of 10% of the city’s 150,000 households, Jason Wood, the Chief of Sustainability for the City of Cleveland, said interest in the program is in line with expectations. After the opt-in period began in late July, there was a surge of interest followed by a lull through mid-August and September. However, 1700 new customers have enrolled in the program since Saturday. The city’s goal is to have 30 percent participation. Residents can sign up online or by calling 216-664-3030.

“By taking this program back to a smaller level and [through direct communication], we’ll be able to better communicate with residents and ultimately the program is more successful,” Wood said in an interview with News 5 on Tuesday. “As we stand this program up and we bring that contamination down, we should be able to continue to evolve and grow the program.”

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Two bins hanging out waiting for their ride home.

In 2019, China stopped importing recycled goods, which imploded the global recyclable materials market. Then, in March 2020, Cleveland’s previous contract with its recycling processor expired. When new bids were sought from interested firms, the teetering recycling market contributed to significant increases in the cost of the contract. Because the city has been operating without a recycling contract since then, materials collected from residents’ blue bins have eventually made their way to the landfill.

“We knew that we were going to end up paying for recycled materials. That’s just the general state [of the market]. Everybody is doing that now,” Wood said. “When we did the initial bid, the pricing came back and it was pretty significant. It would have added about $6 million to $6.5 million to our operating budget just to maintain the program at that status quo level.”

Additionally, the level of contamination in the recyclable materials that were collected from Cleveland residents, made the previous curbside recycling program financially unsustainable, Wood said.

“I think people were trying to do the right thing,” Wood said. “What we needed to do was to have a better communication and education methodology to get that information to residents.”

John Colombo, a longtime resident of the West Park neighborhood, said he plans on opting in to the new recycling program.

“Number one, it’s good for the environment. I feel that more that is recyclable, the less that’s used and ending up in landfills,” Colombo said. “You’re recycling something that has no value to us. But, in a bulk form, for the city or wherever, it has value and it’s helping the environment.”

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The new, bi-weekly curbside recycling program will work on the belief that a fewer number of customers that recycle correctly will be far more sustainable than more customers that recycle poorly, which leads to more contamination and higher costs.

“Absolutely there are financial benefits to doing it this way. There are going to be environmental benefits,” Wood said. “The key thing is how do we fit this into a larger strategy.”

Earlier this week, the city hired its new recycling coordinator, which will serve as the point person for the new initiative. Bids on the new recycling contract are expected to trickle in later this week, Wood said.

After the Oct. 22 deadline, the city will formulate the new collection routes. Officials hope to maintain a similar collection schedule to the one currently in place, Wood said.

Wood anticipates another opt-in period to begin in early 2022.

By opting in to the new program, enrollees agree to adhere to the new recycling guidelines, including the proper materials that should be recycled.

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The city will eventually remove the blue recycling bins from residents that do not opt into the program. Even if residents do not opt-in, they will still be required to pay the waste collection charge. Residents that are serviced by the Division of Waste can opt-in online or by phone. Residents of apartment buildings or large multi-family developments are advised to contact their landlord to see if they qualify.