Cleveland Officials: Recycling Program Should Be Back By End Of 2021

Hands sorting through cardboard and plastic on a conveyor belt at a recycling facility.
The city of Cleveland plans to seek bids for a recycling contract in October. [SGr / Shutterstock]
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The city of Cleveland plans to launch its new recycling program before the end of the year. About 3,000 households have opted in for biweekly collection so far, officials told city council Thursday, primarily on the city’s West Side.

The initial opt-in period will last until mid-October, said Cleveland Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown. That initial round allows the city to see which households are interested and how to create efficient routes.

“That doesn’t mean after 90 days no one can opt in,” Brown said. “We’ll do whatever we need to do to work in the folks who sign up.”

The new recycling program comes after Cleveland’s previous contract lapsed in April 2020. The city could not find a new vendor, and recyclables were taken to landfills along with other waste.

One of the difficulties in finding a new vendor and affordable contract was the level of contamination in materials collected, said Cleveland Chief of Sustainability Jason Wood. As part of its effort to restart the recycling program, the city is working to educate residents to decrease contamination overall, Wood said.

“High contamination rates contributed directly to some of the higher pricing that we got in previous bids,” Wood said. “So our goal in the opt-in process is really to make sure we’re recruiting and educating quality recyclers.”

After the initial opt-in period is up, the city will open requests for bids on the city’s recycling. The new routes will be charted out, Brown said, and blue bins will be collected from households who decide not to participate. The city will continue communication and education efforts with residents and support the program’s rollout after it’s implemented.

The program should be up and running in November, Brown said, depending on how contract bidding goes. Residents who sign up after the initial period will see a slower implementation, he said. All residents still have to pay the monthly $8.75 waste collection fee, regardless of whether they opt in.

“This is a waste fee,” Brown said, “not a recycling fee.”

Single-family and multi-family homes up to four units are eligible to opt in. They have to be currently serviced by the Cleveland Division of Waste.

Acceptable items include cans, cartons, paper and boxes, and plastic bottles and jugs. Whether the contract includes glass for recycling depends on the vendor and contract, Brown said, as there is inconsistency in the industry over whether it is accepted as a recyclable material.

Part of the issue with contamination comes from those kinds of inconsistencies, Brown said, so the city is trying to communicate changes with residents through social media and will send out mailers in the coming weeks.

“I remember at one point in time, we went from put everything in a bag in the can, to don’t put the bag in the can because it gums up the machine and now that’s contamination,” Brown said.

The city also is considering candidates for its recycling coordinator position.

Waste Not

Starting Aug. 9, Cleveland will begin penalizing residents for trash violations including leaving large items on tree lawns.

Bulk trash pick-up remains limited and will be available by appointment only, Brown said, due to a shortage of staff.

Councilmembers also asked officials about compost options, recycling schedules and the possibility of changing the cost for additional waste cans once the recycling program is implemented.

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