Reynoldsburg debates picking up tab for recycling bins

Reynoldsburg’s safety/service director wants to see more large recycling bins available to residents, but some City Council members think the trash hauler should pick up the cost.

Steve DeBolt, Reynoldsburg’s safety/service director, came to the March 3 meeting of City Council’s service committee to update the group on the city’s pilot recycling project.

He explained that about two years ago, in an effort to promote higher recycling rates in Reynoldsburg, the city accepted a grant of 1,500 large recycling bins on wheels, valued at $75,000.

Pilot program

Funding for the grant came from "tip fees" the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) charges all communities for using the landfill, which is anticipated to be full in 25 years, DeBolt said. Due to the lack of landfill availability, it is anticipated that the fees will rise significantly at that time because of the need to travel to a distant, available landfill site.

"The pilot program in Reynoldsburg traded out the smaller, red 16-gallon recyclable bins for the larger, 64-gallon bins on wheels," DeBolt wrote in a memo to council. "They were placed in neighborhoods in approximately 70 streets, in which the 64-gallon bins were easily accessible by the one-man, automated pickup vehicle."

Since then, the city has seen significant waste reduction, with a 15.64 percent waste reduction with recycling in 2005 to a 17.94 percent waste reduction with recycling in 2007.

"According to SWACO, a figure close to a 1 percent increase in recycling rates per year is significant," DeBolt wrote. "Due to recycling, the total tonnage increase diverted from the landfill was 343.55 tons from 2005-07.The tipping fee at the landfill of $33.50 per ton resulted in a savings for Rumpke of $11,508 during the pilot project, which covered only 15 percent of Reynodsburg’s households. If 100 percent of the households had the larger, 64-gallon bins during the pilot period a $76,000 savings would have been reflected in tipping fees for Rumpke. However it would take five years to recoup the initial cost of the bins and is therefore not a short-term option."

DeBolt said the figures are mentioned because Rumpke’s contract is due to expire this year and documented increases in the city’s recycling program could be used in future negotiations to keep rate increases to a minimum. He noted that rate increases could be expected to be in the 3 percent range, or $50,000 per year for the overall contract.

Immediate concern

DeBolt told the committee that a more pressing issue is that 60 bins were held back from the original order to be used as replacements, and most are gone.

"Currently, out of these 60 bins, just a few remain," he said. "Although recycling is mandatory in the city, those within the pilot area who have had bins damaged would not be able to recycle in the future if those bins are not replaced. The automated truck cannot pick up the 16-gallon, red bins."

He added that the new bins are now made of a stronger material that has reduced most damage, and the city has received a few of these new bins free of charge to test.

"Therefore, it is recommended to purchase 25 to 50 of these bins now, at a cost of $1,250 to $2,500," he continued. "This will provide the same level of expectation for service from those residents who have participated in the pilot project."

DeBolt said a survey of residents in need of a replacement for the 64-gallon bins showed that 85 percent preferred to keep the larger bin. Rumpke currently provides the smaller bins as part of the contract, and other communities have successfully negotiated the cost of the new, larger bins into a new contract, DeBolt said.

One option would be paying for the new larger bins out of a surplus in the account, DeBolt presented.

"The city currently has over $630,000 in the solid waste fund," he noted. "Although raising resident fees to cover the costs of any expansion programs is not advisable at this time, it should be noted that there would still be an approximate balance of three months of payments in the fund if the city purchased 4,000 64-gallon bins."

This would increase the coverage of the 64-gallon bins to more than 50 percent of the city, dramatically increasing the diversion rates from the landfill and strengthening the city’s bargaining positions in future contract negotiations.

This is presented as a long-term goal, which would likely result in another nomination for the prestigious Emerald Award that Reynoldsburg won last year for the city’s litter clean-up program for Community Clean-Up Week.

Committee reaction

Councilwoman Leslie Kelly asked how many households are actively participating in the recycling program and how the city can monitor it.

"I think recycling is fantastic, "she said. "I think we all should do it. But how are we monitoring it and making sure that people are doing it?"

DeBolt responded, "It’s mandatory and I’d say the vast majority are."

The city estimates that 8,500 regular households and 1,200 senior households are participating in the program.

"If you drive around town, you see the red bins out," Councilman Mel Clemens noted. "Certain people aren’t going to do anything to help anything."

He said this needs to be considered when the current contract expires this fall.

"I think these kind of things are worked out when it’s time for contract negotiations," he said. "It’s to their advantage for us to do more recycling and I think they should be footing the bill."

Council President William Hills said he think the city needs to maintain what it  has and renegotiate the larger bins into the new contract.

"Anytime you get a grant it’s going to cost you later, and that’s what’s happening here," he said. "The benefit goes to Rumpke and SWACO – we’re not seeing it here."

Councilwoman Antoinette Newman said she has concerns with using a surplus in the solid waste fund to pay for the bins. She said she thought council decided several years back to pass that savings on to residents.

"I don’t think we ought to go out and spend it on blue containers because that wasn’t our word," she said. "It was my understanding that we were going to give that back to residents in thirds."

Hills said he doesn’t recall that promise, and asked the council clerk to check into the minutes.

"I have been here for a while and I don’t remember a commitment being made that we have not honored."

Councilman Fred Deskins agreed the matter needs researched.

"I have a problem if we promised our community," he said. "I have a problem not following through with that."

Councilman Ron Stake agreed the purchase of new containers needs to be part of a new contract.

"When it comes time to negotiate for a new refuse contract we put that in as part of the deal," he said.

Councilwoman Donna Shirey added, "I’m all for recycling, but I have a concern about safety. How are we going to make it convenient for the disabled and the elderly?"

DeBolt responded that the containers are so large they only need emptied every two or three weeks, and Rumpke will come to the garage door to collect it if it is a physical hardship.

"If you can provide a doctor’s statement they will come and get it for you," he responded.

The committee agreed to table the matter for the time being.

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