News: Tossed Out

City ends recycling program for apartment complexes

The city of Cincinnati just made recycling a lot more difficult for some residents, effectively requiring them to deliver paper, plastic or metal to the city's recycling center themselves.

The city has eliminated a decade-old recycling program for larger apartment buildings and condominiums. About three weeks ago city sanitation workers finished their last round of collections to 44 sites that have five or more units.

The program began a decade ago as an experiment to see if apartment dwellers would take advantage of the chance to recycle. It worked. The program collected 375 tons of material last year. But with city council pressuring city departments to reduce spending by a few percent each year, the $116,210 program had to go. The recycling program was originally scheduled to end in January 2000, but the Department of Public Services kept it on life support by using street cleaning and sanitation workers. It took two to four people a full shift to collect the 300 90-gallon green containers in the program.

"We no longer can afford to pull anybody from (those programs)," says Diana Frey, spokesman for Public Services.

The recycling containers were also wearing out, raising the need for additional funding.

Homeowners in the city will still receive free pickup for recycling. Cincinnati pays Rumpke $204,400 to provide weekly home recycling to its 140,000 residences and small businesses, according to Frey. About 40 percent of them participate. In 2000, that investment amounted to $1.46 per household per month and yielded 12,000 tons of material. Recycling by homeowners proves to be much more efficient than recycling by apartment dwellers. The city spends $17 a ton to provide recycling pickup at homes and small businesses, compared $310 per ton at apartment buildings and condos.

"It should have never gone on as long as it did at what it cost to do," Frey says.

Although the city collects home garbage, larger apartments and condos contract with private companies for the service, which often involves dumpsters. Similarly, recycling service is up to building managers.

Frey isn't sure how the 44 buildings were selected for the city's pilot program, but says the 10 of them with fewer than nine units have been given residential bins. The other 34, including the upscale Meridian condos in Columbia Tusculum, are on their own.

"Residents here are not happy," says Meridian concierge Sue Kennedy.

People in the 51-unit complex already miss the service, according to Kennedy. A part-time employee collected recyclable material three times a week. Now Kennedy expects a majority of that material, mostly paper, will end up in the trash.

The city and Rumpke operate a collection site for recycling in the parking lot of the Kroger store in Hartwell. Frey says Public Services hopes to open drop-off centers in the city's east and west sides. But Kennedy believes convenience was a factor for many of the Meridian residents.

"I really don't see drop-off points taking their place," Kennedy says.

A big part of the program's high cost is logistics: It's difficult to collect from apartment buildings because they're scattered all over the city, according to Jeff Raffenberg, Rumpke's recycling and marketing manager. So why doesn't the city contract with Rumpke to collect from as many apartment buildings and condos in Cincinnati as possible? Wouldn't that lower the cost?

Maybe a little, Raffenberg says. But recycling is driven by the market for plastic, paper and metal and the cost of landfill space, which is relatively cheap in the Midwest — $25 to $30 per ton, he says. On the east coast, landfill space can easily cost $100 per ton. The bottom line, Raffenberg says, is recycling programs in the Tristate need some sort of subsidy to exist. Frey doesn't see an apartment and condo recycling program becoming a city priority.

"There's no indication that's going to be a project that's funded," she says.

Rumpke tried a recycling program with apartments in Forest Park, but building owners were reluctant to sacrifice parking spaces for large recycling bins, according to Raffenberg.

So what about the 375 tons of newspapers, plastic soda bottles and soup cans? They've got to go somewhere. If every one of the 375 recycled tons migrated to city trash cans, it would cost the city $26 a ton, or $9,750 per year, to put in landfills. But remember, apartment and condo managers must pay that expense. When you factor this cost into the city's curbside program, it makes a lot more sense. If homeowners and small businesses didn't recycle the 12,000 tons they did last year, that's $312,000 more the city would have paid for garbage disposal — $100,000 more than the recycling program cost.

Frey isn't sure what will happen to the 300 green containers. Maybe some will be used at Riverfest, and maybe some of the damaged ones can be combined into usable ones for other sites. Right now they're being stored at the city's solid waste facility in Millvale, near South Cumminsville.

"We're certainly going to try to recycle (them)," Frey says. ©

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