UPDATE: June 3, 2020: Members of the Cleveland City Council are pushing back on the estimated one-year timeline given by Mayor Frank Jackson for restarting the city's recycling program. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that during a Tuesday meeting, some members advocated for short-term solutions like prioritizing fiber recycling or adding drop-off sites.
Council President Kevin Kelley asked Darnell Brown — the city's chief of operations — to report back on the logistics of specifically collecting fiber by mid-June. Brown also said the establishment of drop-off sites is under consideration. According to a document shared with the council, city officials recently with recycling consultant G.T. Environmental to discuss an updated timeline and scope for its work in light of the pandemic.
- Cleveland, Ohio confirmed last week that city-managed recyclables are currently being landfilled, due largely to cost concerns. Amid ongoing controversy, Mayor Frank Jackson acknowledged the city's residential curbside recyclables are being disposed of and it is unclear when that might change.
- In an April 29 statement, Jackson said residential recycling is typically collected by Cleveland Department of Public Works employees and taken to the Ridge Road Transfer Station before being hauled away by a third party. But Jackson said marketing challenges that have impacted recycling for several years, along with the city's high contamination rate of roughly 68%, made it more challenging to strike a new deal.
- Cleveland's contract with Kimble Recycling & Waste Disposal Co. expired April 1. An initial call for bids resulted in no applicants. Jackson said only one company bid in response to the second effort, with an offer of around $200 per ton, which would have cost the city about $6 million a year. Jackson said that unnamed company would have hauled materials to Southwest Ohio, driving up cost.
A number of cities across the country have momentarily suspended or scaled back their recycling programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some even canceling service permanently. It is unclear how much the pandemic may have hit Cleveland's finances but, like many U.S. municipalities, the area has been impacted by shifting international markets and a decrease in demand for lower quality recyclables. At one point, recycling reportedly brought the city a profit, but the mayor said Cleveland has been losing money on its efforts for some time.
Cleveland contracts with Republic Services for trash disposal and had worked with Kimble for recycling. Kimble previously paid the city $1.50 per ton for recycled material, an amount city officials said in January had shrunk to a budget neutral item, with a trajectory that would ultimately cost Cleveland money. The company did not respond to a request for comment from Waste Dive regarding the end of its agreement with the city or whether it was the most recent bidder.
Rumpke Waste and Recycling, a significant player in the Ohio market, has facilities in Southwest Ohio but did not confirm if the company bid for the city's contract. A spokesperson redirected Waste Dive to Cleveland, which has not responded to multiple inquiries, for further comment.
In July 2019, Cleveland put out a request for proposals inviting bids for consultants to assess the city's recycling program. At that point, data from 2017 showed the city had a recycling revenue of $40,936 and a 65% contamination rate. Landfill diversion (or total costs saved) was at $724,086, with approximately 150,000 families participating in the program. Documents show the city ultimately located a consultant who is being paid $165,000.
Officials have indicated the city may ultimately move to an opt-in curbside recycling program, or potentially a system that relies more on drop-off options, likely serving only around 30,000 homes.
Tracking done by Waste Dive shows Cleveland has struggled with contamination issues for some time. The city previously fined residents more than $387,000 for recycling citations between Aug. 1, 2018 and Jan. 29, 2019. A 2019 collaboration to reduce contamination between the U.S. EPA and The Recycling Partnership involving a number of other Ohio cities did not include Cleveland.
Several Cleveland council members appeared blindsided by Jackson's announcement and called on Twitter for a public hearing addressing the issue. The Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District has also distanced itself from Cleveland's announcement. Executive Director Diane Bickett declined to comment on Cleveland's situation, but she shared an April 30 press release emphasizing that other parts of the county are still recycling.
"Curbside recycling collected in the other 57 communities in the county are sent to three northeast Ohio material recovery facilities to be processed," the release stated. "The problems experienced by Cleveland were due in large part to residents not recycling properly."
The city is still advising residents to sort their recyclables, as officials ultimately hope to bring back a recycling program in some form. Multiple drop-off sites are also available throughout Cleveland for a number of items, including cans, paper and boxes, hazardous and medical waste and electronics.