$40,771 helping take pressure off new Cleveland recycling program by keeping material out of it

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 18:12:24-04

CLEVELAND — More than $40,000 in grant money given out to 14 organizations is already helping the City of Cleveland repair its recycling program by keeping materials out of the trash and recycling bins in the first place.

See a full list of all 14 organizations here.

It’s part of a series of steps the city is taking to reduce the amount of contamination in its recycling stream with the hope that it will be able to agree to a recycling contract by the end of 2021.

Vicki’s Home

“Our students and our kids in the [East Cleveland] community, they really don’t have any place to go or any extracurricular activities that they can do,” said Vicki’s Home President and Executive Director Leslie Thomas.

That’s why the mentorship and confidence-building programs it provides attracted Shaw High School 10th Grader Dajahnae Williams.

Thomas' Vicki's Home provides mentorship for young women in East Cleveland and has taken on this recycling program to find a new life for clothes that have been donated or thrown away.

“When I first heard of it, I was kind of amazed that I could learn about self-love,” said Williams.

When Neighboring-Cleveland’s recycling program ended last year, Thomas thought up a plan to keep kids out of trouble and teach them how to keep old clothes out of the landfill.

“Our girls can use their old clothes and make them new so the program is called “out with the old and in with the new,” said Thomas.

Thomas says the $3,000 grant will help cover the cost of sewing machines and materials.

Vicki’s Home got $3,000 from the City of Cleveland that Thomas says will go toward buying materials and sewing machines so the roughly 15 girls in her program can repurpose donated clothing for people in the community who might need it.

“You can help people that don’t have the things that you have,” said Williams.

Even though Vicki's Home works in East Cleveland, the City of Cleveland tells News 5, "Cleveland Neighborhood Connections provided additional funding (outside of the Circular Cleveland funds) to support projects in East Cleveland, which is also part of their service area."

Clean Garbage Recycling

Across town in Tremont, Clean Garbage Recycling got about $2,700 to expand its paper and aluminum recycling program that News 5 first reported on in December 2020.

“That was what I put in for, was to be a scrap collector,” said Clean Garbage Recycling Co-Founder Deb Smith.

Smith bought this trailer that she uses to collect scrap metal from all over Tremont.

Her grant paid for a trailer that sits in her driveway when she isn’t using it to collect scrap metal around Tremont. She then takes the scrap and aluminum collected through neighborhood drop off bins to processors herself.

“You know, a lot of times, if [scrap metal] will fit in the [garbage] can, people will put it in their can, and yet it’s metal, it’s got zinc, brass or copper, and aluminum,” said Smith. “All of those things are things that are easily recyclable.”

Collection bins like these are throughout Tremont and some nearby communities for co-op members to drop off some recyclable materials.

If you want to join the Clean Garbage Recycling Co-Op, you can email Smith at

If you want more information about what is recyclable and where you can bring items that are too large for the curb, go to

Clean Garbage Recycling started collecting aluminum and steel in August 2020 and scrap metal in June 2021. Smith says it's collected:

  • 2120 lbs of aluminum cans
  • 2903 lbs of scrap steel/sheet iron
  • 17 lbs of aluminum foil
  • 14 lbs copper
  • 8 lbs brass
  • 28 lbs in motors
  • 12 lbs in capacitors
  • 3 A/C units

The problem

The City of Cleveland hasn’t recycled the materials put into the city’s blue curbside recycling bins since April 2020, when the city couldn’t agree to a recycling contract that it would accept. The bid it received was too high because the contamination in the city’s recycling stream was so high that it became much more expensive to process.

“The big challenge is educating people how to do it right,” said Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District Executive Director Diane Bickett at the time. “We learned from the company that was handling [Cleveland’s] material, Kimble, that it was at 65% [contamination]. So it was more trash than recycling.”

The solution

A consultant’s report detailed problems with the existing recycling system and offered the city options to fix it.

The first few steps include hiring a Recycling Coordinator to oversee the program, having residents opt-in for curbside pick up, and using roughly $475,000 in grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote 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 Cleveland Chief of Sustainability Jason Wood. “You just can’t do it. So we really need to focus on the other R’s: the Reduce and the Reuse.”

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.

$75,000 of that money is being used for $3,000 micro-grants to help grassroots efforts like Smith’s and Thomas’.

Wood and Smith agree that no single action is going to fix the issues with the city’s recycling program, but each small step helps.

“We have to raise awareness so that people value recycling,” said Smith. “They see it as a way to help achieve these goals.”

Opting In

If you would like to opt in for Cleveland’s curbside recycling program, you need to do it before October 22, 2021 at this link.

You can find more information about the circular economy grants here. The City of Cleveland tells News 5 it expects Phase 2 grants to open in early 2022 after the Circular Cleveland roadmap is completed.

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