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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Recycling gets hit hard in Cincinnati due to budget cuts

The City of Cincinnati announced yesterday that its yard waste collection service for residences and business owners has been canceled. The move comes on the heels of suspended discussions about the use of larger recycling carts, and reforms presented by City Manager Dohoney that would streamline and pay for a new waste collection system.


During the budget discussions in past weeks, many fiscal conservatives openly mocked the idea of investing in new recycling carts for City residents. The 64-gallon wheeled recycling carts would have put recycling on a comparable level to normal trash pick up in terms of capacity, but would have also cost the City a $3.5 million of upfront capital. The debate was quickly ended and the discussion about improving the City’s recycling program has been indefinitely suspended.


These are not the first of the items that have set waste collection and recycling back in Cincinnati. In November 2008, City Manager Dohoney proposed a new waste collection fee to help balance the budget, and went on to say that a $300,000 study of a automated trash collection system using trucks that lift cans with mechanical levers instead of having city workers do the heavy lifting.

Photo from the City of Cincinnati

The automated system would, in the long-term, save the City money as Dohoney reported that "we are averaging seven people out a month with some type of injury as a result of how we collect solid waste." Dohoney went on to say that those injuries were costing the City approximately $1 million a year. Both this, and the trash collection fee, were met with heavy criticism as many did not like the idea of a new fee, for an otherwise indirectly paid for service through property taxes.


But as the politicians and community leaders continue to punt this issue back and forth the problems still exist. Cincinnati’s rates of recycling are far too low, the costs associated with trash collection are still too high, the efficiency of collecting trash is still not where it needs to be, and users still have no benefit to reduce their waste production.


The solutions are present. City Manager Dohoney’s proposal was a step in the right direction, but the adoption of a RecycleBank-style program would be another step towards reducing the production of waste and encouraging higher rates of recycling. A ‘Pay as You Throw’ (PYT) system would require users to pay for their waste collection based on the amount of waste they produce, something that would encourage lower rates of waste production and higher rates of recycling when paired with a RecycleBank-style program.


It is truly unfortunate to see long-term economic, social and environmental benefits cast aside due to the fear of an initial capital cost that is seen as either being wasteful or too much given the current economy. In addition to growing revenue streams, cities also need to find ways to improve their efficiencies for not only their customers, but their bottom lines. These kinds of actions would help avoid future personnel cuts the next time an economic downturn hits, and make city operations more responsive.


The results from these cuts will be seen quickly and easily as people will immediately start discarding their yard waste with their regular trash. The use of smaller recycling bins versus larger carts that are easier to use will continue to stack the deck against recycling over regular disposal that might be more convenient. The progress that Cincinnati has made on this front in recent years might just all be lost in one budget cycle.


Yard Waste Cancellation Details:
Beginning Friday, August 21, yard waste collection will be discontinued as a separate service. The City will maintain regular garbage collection and will pick up yard waste as a part of that, although City officials strongly encourage residents and business owners to find alternative means to discarding their yard waste (i.e. composting, mulching, yard waste drop-offs). If you have additional questions, or would like to find the Hamilton County yard waste drop-off location nearest you visit this website.

6 comments:

Travis Estell said...

What's disturbing to me about cutting the expanded recycling program is that, according to Roxanne Qualls, the program would have saved the city money every year beginning this fiscal year. The $3.5 million cost of new carts would not be paid up front, but with annual payments of $462,000. We would immediately be able to reduce the number of garbage collection routes, so even after the cost of the new carts, the city would save $20,000 in 2009 and $240,000 in 2010. This isn't savings down the road, this is savings right now. Just think... we could have had expanded recycling and had more money left over in our operating budget that could be used on police, firefighters, parks, etc.

All of this data comes from Roxanne Qualls' blog post. Please speak up if you feel like "fuzzy math" was used.

Randy Simes said...

Great points Travis. What seems to be clear is that this is not good policy making, and we need to get better at examing our policies in a comprehensive way to fully see their benefits and any potential detriments.

Chris Ridenour said...

To me it's this. Why were we talking about firing firemen and policemen when things like $3.5 million were about to be spent on big recycling cans?

Let's be honest - the reason I don't recycle has nothing to do with the fact that I don't have a big enough recycling can. I admire the effort, and if we weren't about to fire police officers in a city where there just never seem to be enough, then I would be all for it.

What do you want, police or recycling? I'm glad they got their priorities straight in City Hall.

Quim said...

After reading Qualls' column this is a real step backwards, I think. I do not know how the yard waste has been used but now it will certainly increase what we pay for garbage disposal.
That being said, I don't see why the city has to supply recycling bins. They already have and participation is like, what ? 20% ?
No reason you can't supply your own bin or buy or pay a deposit on one from the city. The current bins are only usable by single people and maybe really environmentally conscious couples. A family of 4-6 would probably need 2 large bins. But the participation levels need to go up. I think investing in education could be a better investment than just dumping bins (that a lot of people don't need) in people's front yards.

Travis Estell said...

Chris, I think you missed my point. According to Qualls, the recycling would save the city money. Every year starting this year. Not cost more money, but save money. This means that there would be fewer police layoffs and fire engine brownouts.

Chris Ridenour said...

I apologize, I admit I did not read the Qualls post. After now reading it - I still don't see where these cost savings come in. We're creating 56 new jobs and spending over $462,000/year in addition to that.

What the article should say is - "If the recycling increases the proposed 300%, the savings would be ..." If we continue at our current rate of recycling, it would end up costing the city.

It's hard to make that gamble in these times.

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