After 30 years, the city may scrap its recycling program.
That’s because rising recycling costs could force city leaders to re-evaluate Rocky River’s recycling program. If costs continue to go up, officials could even halt city-sponsored recycling altogether, which has been in place since 1990.
“There will come a point where we will have to have that uncomfortable conversation with the community,” Safety Service Director Rich Snyder said. “There’s that balance of us trying to do the right thing for the environment but also trying to make sure we utilize the money provided by the community in the most sensible manner possible.”
It’s unclear what the change would involve. Officials could cut plastic or cardboard from the program before scrapping recycling altogether. However, the city will seek residents’ input before making a decision, Snyder said..
The city pays Republic Services to handle the community’s recyclables. On Jan. 1, Republic increased the fees it charges to process recyclables at its Oberlin plant from $75 a ton to $100 a ton. The company also added a $75 per ton contamination fee, Snyder said.
Republic has found that about a fifth of the recyclables it collects from the city is contaminated with plastic bags and mixed plastics that aren’t accepted in Republic’s recycling program. This drives costs up as workers must manually remove it from their machine, said Dan Schoewe, Republic Services operations manager.
“Anything that’s not in our recycling program we have to pull out by hand,” he said. “As contamination goes up, the slower we have to run our machines and the more people we have to add. I don’t want to turn things away, but at this point, I have to.”
On average, Rocky River residents recycle about 75 tons of material monthly with about 20% of it being contaminated. The city has paid Republic Services $15,000 in recycling fees and an extra $5,250 in contamination fees this year. The company began raising prices in July after China stopped accepting America’s recyclables in 2018. Since then, a strain has been placed on facilities like Republic’s, which handles rubbish from 60 other cities, including Bay Village, Schoewe said.
Rocky River’s 20,216 residents generated 7,831 tons of trash in 2019. Of that, 844 tons were recyclables. The city paid $309,006.13 to dispose of the trash in a landfill and $52,703 in recycling fees, according to information provided by the city.
The city’s biggest contaminants are plastic bags, used clothing and non-recyclable plastics, Snyder said.
To combat costs, city officials introduced the Give Back Box program in January. The program lets residents package gently used clothing and shoes in leftover boxes and send them to retailers and charities through the program’s website, givebackbox.com.
Snyder has also applied for a community resource awareness grant from Cuyahoga County with the intention to use the money to install new recycling containers at Rocky River Park. In the past, the city has used funding from this grant for shredding days and pamphlets on recycling that are mailed to residents.
“What we’re trying to do is educate people how to properly recycle, because there is still a portion of it that makes money for us,” he said, referring to aluminum, certain plastics and steel scrap.
Rocky River isn’t the only city affected by rising costs. More than 50 cities across the nation have suspended their recycling services due to expenses. Oregon, near Toledo, is the only Ohio city to do so, according to recycling watchdog Wastedive.
While Rocky River is far from making a drastic decision, Snyder believes the market will eventually even itself out. However, it’s unclear whether the city will be able to change course.
“I grew up watching (the TV show) ‘Captain Planet.’ I don’t think anybody wants to start throwing their recycling in the landfill,” Snyder said. “However, I understand why communities are throwing it away. The costs just keep going up.”
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