Cuyahoga County is getting better at recycling, but we’re still far from a “zero waste” society.
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.
2014 is the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Year of Zero Waste. What does that mean to you?
For GreenCityBlueLake Director David Beach, the ultimate would be a change of perspective from solid waste disposal to materials management. He thinks we should set our sights on San Francisco and Austin which are moving aggressively toward zero waste.
According to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, “Sending nothing to a landfill is a foreseeable future.”
We spoke to the Cuyahoga Solid Waste District Business Recycling Specialist, Doreen Schreiber, and outreach and education specialist, Kathleen Rocco, about their role in the local Zero Waste effort. We wanted to know, Is recycling more than feel good? What do we need to know to throw “away” less trash?
Recycling is more than feel good to Cleveland-area manufacturers who literally turn 75% of their waste into revenue. Industry long ago found that closing the loop on waste saved a ton of money.
Don’t get too hung up on zero.
“There’s no international definition, but if you divert 90% of your waste it’s considered zero waste,” she says. “The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council now has a third-party certification for (industry) and all of your vendors downstream.”
The hidden truth, says Schreiber, is recycling pays for itself in offices, too, even though most aren’t realizing it.
“The dollar speaks. Business say, ‘I want to be sustainable.’ But if the dollars aren’t right, it goes out the window.”
Her job is to evaluate what businesses are throwing out, and hook them up with someone who wants their waste. She helps companies with their recycling programs, and with bid documents for waste haulers—a move that she says recently saved a property owner $500,000 over his old contract.
“The economics are there,” Schreiber says. “One VP came in and was all gung-ho on recycling. It turns out every bit was going into the trash. So, I set up program and now 80% of what was going into the Dumpster is going to recycling. They get rebate checks which more than covers the cost of waste hauling.”
The lesson—don’t assume that someone else is doing it right unless you see it with your own eyes.
“You have facilities people and you have the passionate message-givers. You get them and the decision makers on board, or it’s going to get stuck.”
Schreiber dives into the art of building a successful recycling program at her free “Waste and Recycling Sense for Your Business” seminars (the next one is March 13).
For people, the confusion over “What can I recycle?” has been a stumbling block. That will be changing, Rocco hopes.
“The region added three, hot new recycling centers,” she says, “and yet people are still asking, ‘do I rip out Cellophane from envelopes?’ We’re way beyond that.”
The new centers mean that every community in Cuyahoga County should be accepting #1-7 plastic bottles, all colored-glass bottles, aluminum and plastic cans, and paper products in a single bag or bin.
The best practice for communities is a “single stream” system where all materials can be co-mingled into a big blue bin. The best recycling communities tend to be the ones with resources like bins and leaf pickup, and environmentally minded or, at least, well-educated, residents (which explains Pepper Pike’s 70% residential recycling rates but not Lyndhurst, which provides bins, and still recycled only 46.85% of its waste in 2012).
Cleveland promises to have blue bins, and curbside recycling restored, to 95% of residences by 2015. The District and the city are lobbying Curbside Value Partnership the national marketing muscle behind edgy campaigns in cities where recycling is at very low rates like Cleveland (9.72% of its waste in 2012).
Recycling ebbs and flows depending on the national mood, Rocco says. What will keep people committed to recycling is an open question, especially in Ohio where landfills charge a small fraction of what they do in places like San Fran. For their part, Rocco and Schreiber will continue to show people how simple recycling and composting can be. And that dumping things into the ground produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The city of Cleveland Climate Action Plan has a goal of reducing trash going to landfills 50% by 2030. Landfilling trash only accounts for 0.6% of the city’s carbon footprint, but reaching that goal would prevent 77,000 metric tonnes of carbon equivalent from polluting the environment.
38% of the city’s waste is organics—food and yard trimmings. It points to the need for greater composting. The city doesn’t have curbside pickup for yard waste. Some small businesses like Groundz Recycling have started operating compost centers where they combine yard waste and coffee grounds from retailers like Starbucks. Groundz Recycling is a partner in an emerging effort to bike organic waste to community gardens in Detroit-Shoreway for composting, an effort that GCBL reported will launch this spring (thanks to a crowdfunding campaign).