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.