Cuyahoga County communities have steadily improved recycling rates over the past decade, but we are still dumping a ton of waste per person per year in landfills. We are still far from a zero-waste society that treats everything as a valuable resource.
Residential recycling and composting grew to 32.74% of the waste stream in Cuyahoga County in 2012, up from 18.47% in 2001, according to a recent report from the county’s Solid Waste Management District. The overall rate, including industrial and commercial wastes, was 52%. The rest of the county’s waste stream—1.27 million tons, or almost exactly one ton per person—went to landfills.
To see how your community ranked, check out this list of residential recycling rates from the 2012 county data. The top 15 communities helped their residents divert more than half their waste from landfills. Congratulations to Woodmere and Pepper Pike for topping 70%.
Meanwhile, 19 communities did not even manage a 25% residential recycling rate. The county’s largest city, Cleveland, managed just 9.72%. And a number of other cities need to do a lot more to keep up with their more successful neighbors. For example, Rocky River recycled only 35.86%, while Bay Village did 68.13%. (A caveat: these numbers are estimates provided by waste haulers, so they may not be precise.)
The wide range of community recycling performance is the result of a number of factors, says Diane Bickett, executive director of the solid waste district. The best programs have:
- Easy-to-use collection systems (the current best practice is an automated, curb-side system using 64-gallon carts rather than blue bags)
- Fall leaf collection
- Seasonal grass and brush collection
- Effective public education about the importance of waste reduction
- Engaged, environmentally-minded residents
To keep reducing the amount of wasted dumped in landfills, Bickett says that communities will need better systems for managing organic wastes, especially food wastes. Commercial recycling services (for restaurants, bars, stores, apartment buildings, etc.) need to be strengthened. And, in general, people need to become more aware of consumption patterns that generate a lot of waste, such as the purchase of highly packaged goods and products that cannot be recycled easily.
She adds that a major impediment to waste reduction in Ohio is the cheap price of landfills. When it costs only about $25 to dump a ton of waste in a landfill, it’s hard for alternatives to compete.
Despite the challenges, the ultimate goal should be a change of perspective from solid waste disposal to materials management. Other cities—including San Francisco and Austin—are moving aggressively toward zero waste. According to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, “Sending nothing to a landfill is a foreseeable future.”
That’s the vision we need in Northeast Ohio.