Recycling Contractor Jumps Ship, City of Cleveland Back to Square One in Woeful Saga

click to enlarge Clevelanders dropped off bags of recycling at City Hall to express anger at the lapsing of the curbside recycling program, (5/4/20). - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
Sam Allard / Scene
Clevelanders dropped off bags of recycling at City Hall to express anger at the lapsing of the curbside recycling program, (5/4/20).

The City of Cleveland announced Wednesday that it has failed to agree to contract terms with a vendor selected to manage the new curbside recycling program. Roughly 27,000 households registered for the "opt-in" recycling program this summer and fall after a consultant proposed such an arrangement earlier in 2021. Under the new program, theoretically, those who sign up will retain their blue recycling bins and have recyclable materials collected every other week.

But without a vendor to collect and process that material, the City will have to go out for bids once again. That's a dicey proposition, given that it has now failed to enlist a willing vendor at a sensible price point on three consecutive occasions.

The cost of recycling has gone up dramatically, ever since China said it would no longer serve as Planet Earth's garbage bin in 2019. But vendors are especially resistant to partnering with Cleveland — only one vendor responded to the city's first two requests for proposals (RFPs) in 2020 — as residents here are so bad at properly recycling. Before the program lapsed, nearly 70% of all material put in recycling bins was contaminated, either non-recyclable items or items that hadn't been thoroughly cleaned. (Pizza boxes covered in hardened cheese and grease is the go-to example). The city failed to adequately educate and enforce against this tendency.

An "opt-in" program was regarded as an antidote to excessive contamination. The thought is that those who volunteer are more committed recyclers whose contamination levels will be significantly lower, yielding higher returns for a vendor. But for reasons unexplained in the city's update, terms were not reached.

The projected start date of the new program — the "first quarter of 2022" — now seems like a pipe dream indeed.

Thus the city's recycling woes continue. Its program has been nonexistent for roughly the full duration of the Covid-19 pandemic — it lapsed in April, 2020 — and Cleveland remains one of only two municipalities in Cuyahoga County without a functioning curbside program. Richmond Heights is the other.

The Fox 8 I-Team first reported that Cleveland residents' recyclable materials were being hauled to a landfill, alongside the trash. The City played defense, noting high contamination levels and the stratospheric cost of continuing the program with a new vendor. But it failed to communicate information proactively to residents, a hallmark of the Frank Jackson administration. Worse, it maintained the appearance of a legitimate curbside program, continuing to collect the Blue Bins with recycling trucks, an illusion that contributed to residents' frustration. Many were angry that the program had lapsed, but even angrier that they'd been deceived into thinking it hadn't.

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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