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Cleveland residents can now opt in to curbside recycling program

Republic recycling
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 15:05:34-04

CLEVELAND — The City of Cleveland is now allowing residents to opt-in to curbside recycling pick-up program with the goal of starting the city's recycling program again by the end of 2021.

“For more than a decade, my administration has worked to build and solidify Cleveland’s reputation as a ‘green City on a blue lake,’” said Mayor Frank G. Jackson in a news release. “This opt in recycling program will help us to work alongside residents to establish a more efficient and sustainable waste and recycling collection process.”

Residents interested in joining the program must sign up by Oct. 22 by calling 216-664-3030 or by signing up through the opt-in form here.

Bulk collection will transition to bi-weekly, on alternate weeks from recycling, and will eventually shift to an appointment-based program once the bi-weekly collection routes are established.

It’s the first of a long series of moves the city plans on making to restart Cleveland’s recycling program after a consultant’s report detailing problems with the existing recycling system and offering options to fix it.

The first three steps the city is taking are:

  • Hire a Recycling Coordinator
  • Allow residents to opt-in for curbside pick up
  • Gather bids for a new recycling contract.

The city hasn’t recycled the materials in the blue curbside recycling bins since April 2020, when its recycling contract expired and the city couldn’t get a bid it would accept.

Before 2018, large amounts of our recycling could go from our curbside bins to China. Starting in 2018, China became more selective about what it would accept, driving the demand and price for recycled materials way down.

International changes in the recycling market, making it less profitable, are partially to blame. But Cleveland’s high level of recycling contamination, or non-recyclable materials, in the city’s recycling stream drove the city’s sole bid higher than it was willing to pay. Contamination makes recycling more expensive to process because the non-recyclable materials have to be sorted out.

Opt-In Program
City of Cleveland Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown and Chief of Sustainability Jason Wood tell News 5 Cleveland before April of 2020, about 150,000 households had recycling picked up from the curb. They expect 30,000-35,000 households to participate in the opt-in program, which they hope will result in lower bids to process that recycling.

“The point is to create a universe of customers who want to be in the program and will do it in the correct way,” said Brown.

"Anytime someone puts something in the recycle cart that is not on the recycle list, that's contamination," said Bickett. "That's costing all of us to sort out."

The smaller number of participating households also means it will be easier for the city to educate residents about how to recycle properly and that the people who decide to participate in the program will be more likely to pay close attention to what they put in the recycling bin, keeping contamination rates down.

“Instead of just sort of putting information out there, we’ll be able to go directly to the folks who have opted into the program to communicate specifics about materials and any program changes and deferments that happen through there,” said Wood.

“Trying to ‘right-size’ it and really get to a population of folks who will take a pledge or oath to really recycle correction and do it well,” said Brown.

For more than a year, the material in Cleveland's blue recycling bins have been going to the same landfill as the garbage in the city's darker bins.

The opt-in process will last for 90 days, during which the city will request bids for recycling contracts based on the number of households signing up. Woods and Brown say the recycling contract will have to address how often additional households can join the curbside recycling program.

Blue recycling bins at home that do not opt in will be collected to prevent confusion.

Hiring a Recycling Coordinator
The City of Cleveland posted a position for a Recycling Coordinator on July 5. The posting says the position will make between $50,000 and $55,000 per year within the Division of Waste Collection.

New recycling contract bids
Brown and Wood says they’ll start meeting with recycling processing companies while the opt-in process is open to secure a recycling contract as quickly as possible. The hope is that with fewer households participating in curbside collection, the cost of processing the city’s recycling will be closer to what the city is willing to pay.

Reducing recycling
A fourth step the city is taking will attempt to reduce the amount of recycling that enters the recycling stream in the first place.

Wood says Cleveland has obtained roughly $475,000 in grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provost the “circular economy” in the city. The goal is to promote programs that allow residents to reuse materials on their own so they don’t get recycled in the first place but also aren’t thrown away.

“We are not going to recycle our way out of waste challenges,” said Wood. “You just can’t do it. So we really need to focus on the other R’s: the Reduce and the Reuse.”

Cleveland city hall
The City of Cleveland says residents can start to opt-in to a curbside recycling program this week with recycling starting again by the end of the year.

Phase 1 of the initiative will “include workshops to gain community input, support for local circular economy projects with Cleveland Climate Action Fund grants, and the implementation of a composting program at the Westside Market,” according to a press release.

Phase 2 will focus on implementation and will be “focused on advancing an equitable circular economy, economic development incentives for small businesses doing circular economy work, and an expanded education and engagement effort,” according to the release.

Wood says part of that money is already earmarked to support creative solutions that citizens have come up with to reduce what gets recycled.

“We’ve got about $75,000 allocated from this project that we’ll award through a series of micro-grants to really help bring those things to fruition,” said Wood.

Resident Reaction
No longer having the option to use curbside recycling only created more work for residents like Brenna Davis in Ohio City and Andrea Sharb in Edgewater. Both residents worked with neighbors to collect recyclable materials and either drop them off in places where they would be recycled or reuse them in their homes.

Davis leaves bags of cans on her fence so community members can turn them in for money, generating income.

Both plan on opting in to the curbside recycling program and urging neighbors to do it too once it's available.

"I think that most people want to recycle, they just weren’t educated on exactly what we needed to do because the rules kept changing it was very confusing," said Davis.

They're also supportive of the Circular Economy piece to the recycling puzzle not only at Westside Market but also for how it will help resident-lead initiatives.

"People need to realize that recycling is one of the answers but it's more important for us to keep stuff out of the landfills," said Sharb, who is part of Sustainable Edgewater, a community group in the Edgewater neighborhood that's already working on circular economy ideas.

Sharb, Davis, and Wood all say recycling alone can't fix climate issues or single-handedly improve the environment, but it's an important thing to do well to help,

"It’s an important piece of the puzzle for this historic moment that we’re living in," said Davis. "So it just makes me feel hopeful in a time when we need everybody to be doing everything that they possibly can."

"Bringing composting to something like Westside Market where it's so public and so many people can see what's happening is going to get people curious," said Sharb.

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