CLEVELAND — More than 3200 households have opted into the City of Cleveland's new recycling program since the enrollment period began two weeks ago, according to figures released by the city at a joint meeting of two city council subcommittees Thursday morning. The response represents about 10% of the city's goal to have between 30,000 and 35,000 households in the new recycling program, which is designed to reduce contamination in the city's recycling collection and, in turn, bringing processing costs down.
The city's curbside recycling program has been operating without a contract with a recycling processor for more than a year. The previous contract expired in April 2020 after city officials said bids from interested firms came in significantly over budget. The substantial increase in costs was due in large part to rampant contamination in the recyclables that the city collected. From spoiled food to car batteries and even dead animals, the contamination requires the recycling processor to spend more time and money sorting what's salvageable. Coupled with a significant drop in the international market for raw recyclables several years ago, the city's previous recycling system became unsustainable, officials said.
"Contamination is a critical component of this," said Jason Wood, the city's chief of sustainability. "The high contamination rates contribute to some of the higher pricing that we got in previous bids. Our goal in the opt-in process is to make sure that we are recruiting and then educating folks to be quality recyclers."
In essence, the city has shifted toward a recycling program that puts quality over quantity where people who want to recycle—and recycle correctly—participate.
In a joint meeting of the City Council's Municipal Services and Properties committee and Development, Planning and Sustainability committee, the top architects of the city's new recycling program fielded questions from council members. As part of their report, the city's chief operating officer, Darnell Brown, provided council members with a map showing the locations of the more than 3200 households that have opted into the program. The vast majority of those that have opted into the program are located on the city's west side.
The greatest concentration of participation on the city's East Side is in Councilman Mike Polensek's ward in the Collinwood neighborhood.
"In my opinion, the greatest success or the greatest participation and compliance with the recycling program is where I had the highest percentage of owner-occupied housing," Polensek said.
City officials also provided clarity on who is eligible to opt-in. Even if a resident currently rents, they are still eligible to opt into the new recycling program. Currently, rental properties that have four or fewer units are serviced by the city's waste collection system. Eligibility also applies to those that live in a residential section of a mixed-use development.
"If they are currently being serviced by the Division of Waste using automated waste cans, they would continue and have the opportunity to participate in this program," said Terrell Cole, the deputy chief of operations.
Neighbors Kathy Borkowski and Kathleen Uhler, who live in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood, both opted into the program and believe it is a worthwhile endeavor for the city.
"I opted in and I'm trying to do my part," Uhler said. "I do what I can for the environment. I didn't hesitate. Hopefully this is a good step in the right direction."
As part of the new program, the city will develop new biweekly recycling routes for those that are participating. Those who have not opted into the program will eventually lose their blue recycling cart. Some council members had reservations about the smaller recycling cart not being big enough to accommodate all of the recyclable material a household would generate over two weeks. Additionally, Councilman Charles Slife (Ward 17) expressed concern that residents would still be charged the $8.50 per month waste collection fee even if they chose not to opt into the recycling program.
"What is understood in this larger presentation and concept is that you're getting half the service for the same cost. I point that out because it does create a credibility crisis [at city hall]," Slife said.
Slife also said the city needs to increase its outreach efforts to get more people to opt-in because the success of the program may hinge on the number of people participating. Furthermore, with bulk collection being beefed up to a biweekly schedule (alternating weeks with recycling collection), Slife expects there to be some confusion among residents.
"I'd urge the administration to consider getting printed some door hangers. You can put them on the blue can so you can make sure everybody gets the notice," Slife said. "Also, the garbage and recycling trucks drive by every week and it seems like a great branding opportunity."
Residents interested in opting into the new recycling program can do so by filling out the online form. You can also calling 216-664-3030.