Recycling participation up 75% after debut of Cincinnati’s Enhanced Recycling Program

One year ago city leaders gathered in East Walnut Hills to celebrate the start of Cincinnati’s use of RecycleBank as part of the then new Enhanced Recycling Program. While including some upfront capital expenses, city leaders sold the program to city residents by touting not only its environmental sustainability, but also its projected long-term cost savings.

The upfront capital cost covered 64- or 96-gallon recycling carts for all households, approximately five times larger than previous bins, that offer smart chip technology for the RecycleBank rewards program. The potential benefits of the program were slightly more debatable and kicked off a passionate debate amongst various special interest groups. After one year the program has seen a 75 percent increase in recycling participation, but the positives do not end there.

According to the Office of Environmental Quality, the City of Cincinnati saw a 49 percent increase in the recyclable material tonnage collected in the past 6 months compared to the same period the previous year. The data also shows that the City increased recycling diversion to 17 percent.

“We had a great first year,” said Larry Falkin, director of the Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ). “We were able to grow participation in the recycling program by nearly 75 percent, increase the amount of recyclables collected curbside by nearly 50 percent, and save the City nearly $1 million through decreased landfill disposal costs and increased revenues from the sale of recyclables.”

The huge participation growth is a coup for environmentalists and waste management professionals looking to reduce overall solid waste production. The money savings, on the other hand, is a major win for City Hall as it continues to look for ways to reduce spending and grow revenues.

The growth in recycling participation has not come as a surprise to everyone though. In 2009, Rumpke invested $6.5 million in its Cincinnati Material Recovery Facility to improve the facility’s technology. That investment has allowed the waste management company to handle the larger flow of material through its plant and expand the list of acceptable items for recycling.

“Cincinnati’s enhanced recycling program is even more successful that we expected. It is clear that our community wants to recycle more to help the environment and save the City money,” Mayor Mark Mallory said in a prepared statement. “The more we recycle, the less the City has to pay to dump our garbage at the landfill. As we head into year two, we look forward to even higher levels of recycling and more savings.”

Cincinnati recycling picture by Jenny Kessler.

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  • On Tuesday, November 8th @ 6pm at the Main Branch Library (3rd Floor Tower Room) the Downtown Residents Council (DRC) will host Michelle Balz with Hamilton County’s Multi-Family Recycling Assistance Program and Christian Huelsman with the City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environmental Quality – RecycleBank Program. This is a public meeting not just for downtown residents or dues paying members, so please join us to find out more about these programs and have your questions answered.

  • This is great news. I live in Louisville, Ky and it seems we are way behind not only Cincinnati but the rest of the country as well. Since we are neighbors I hope we have the leadership to steal you idea and try to move into the future. We have made progress but it seems slow and lacking any real progress.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    I had a quick observation the other night — that at night it’s hard to tell which garbage can is the recycling one (the green is of course totally obvious during the day) and which ones are for regular garbage, depending on the design of your garbage cans. Some sort of unusual lid design or other feature could have elminated this problem.

  • @Jake Mecklenborg: On that note, I’ve found it interesting that in other cities recycling carts are actually brown, and the trash carts are green. I found it to be counter-intuitive. Not sure what the solution should be for your observation…or if it really matters.

  • Aaron Watkins

    It probably saves a lot of money to be able to just change the resin or dye rather than pay for the tooling for a new trash can mold.

  • BambooJoe

    I live in a multi-family/apartment building. I still recycle but it sure would be nice if we got something fun too! Are the points only going to be for single family homes? Does anyone know how the city handles this or if anything is in the works? Do Condo buildings see a return on the residents recycling?

  • J

    I recycle all the time. Saves me so much money on garbage bags, and I don’t have to take out the trash so much.