Business News Opinion Politics

EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Leaders Should Implement a PAYT Waste Management System

As the new mayor and city council continue to get settled in to their new offices, we would like to suggest a policy reform that should be enacted immediately to help improve the city’s environment, balance its budget and give residents and businesses greater flexibility in terms of their trash collection.

Since the city debuted its new system of trash collection, it has been riddled with complaints from upset citizens and business owners unhappy about not being able to throw away the amount of trash that they generate. This is a problem since reports of illegal dumping have picked up in various neighborhoods.

At the same time, the new system represents an improvement over the old in terms of its efficiency. The city is now able to reduce staff levels on each garage truck, avoid safety risks associated with employees lifting and maneuvering heavy trash cans, and boost recycling rates. All of these reforms save the city money and help the city protect its workers from injury on the job.

In order to resolve the ongoing issues, while also preserving the advances that have been made, UrbanCincy urges the new mayor and city council to immediately implement a Pay As You Throw (PAYT) system.

Such a system is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for its environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and its equity. What the USEPA has noticed is that communities using such a system have realized increased recycling rates, balanced and consistent revenue streams for municipalities looking to offset the costs of their waste collection, and improved equity in terms of how payments are made by the diverse range of users in the system.

As of 2006, USEPA data showed that 243 communities throughout Ohio were utilizing a PAYT system. Cincinnati should be the next.

When implementing a PAYT system, communities are able to choose from charging users a specific fee per bag or can of waste they generate. In communities where the capabilities are available, like Cincinnati, officials can be more precise and charge residents based on the weight of trash they generate.

Due to the potential complexities and higher administrative costs of managing such a variable-rate system, we recommend that city officials set a base rate for each 64-gallon can, with fixed prices for each additional can after that.

This is both a fair and effective means of managing waste collection. It allows users to generate as much or as little trash as they desire without any fear of exceeding the size constraints of their trash can. Those who recycle more, and discard less, are rewarded with lower fees.

If the new mayor and city council would like to pursue a version of this approach that could benefit low-income communities, then we would recommend developing a partnership with a local company or organization, or pursue grant money, that could cover the costs of any user within the city’s established empowerment zones. This would allow the city to continue to improve its financial standing and service delivery, while also working to aid residents and businesses within the neighborhoods that need it most.

In the last full year of budget data, the City of Cincinnati spent $11,320,530 on its Waste Collections Program. This was a $758,740 reduction from the previous year’s expenditures due largely to the elimination of 12 full-time equivalent staff positions. Meanwhile, there is no direct revenue source to pay for this program.

Of course, COAST and its allies successfully pushed through a broadly written Charter amendment in 2011 (Issue 47), which was opposed by the Cincinnati Regional Chamber of Commerce, that prohibits the City from assessing, levying, or collecting taxes or general assessment on real properties, or against the owners or occupants thereof, for the collection of trash, garbage, waste, rubbish or refuse.

What this means is that the City is permanently stuck with an $11-12 million hole in its budget every year. Most communities around the nation and throughout the region already charge their residents and businesses directly for waste collection. Cincinnati has been unique in being able to not directly charge for this service, but times have changed, and so must its policies. Waste collection should collect as much in revenue as is reasonable to help offset the costs to administer the program.

If the new mayor and city council want to get real about passing a structurally balanced budget while not severely degrading the services it provides its residents and businesses, then there should be no question about whether or not to implement a PAYT system as quickly as possible. We cannot afford to let allow an $11.3 million hole sit in our budget.

Implementing a Pay As You Throw system will help structurally balance the city’s budget. It will help improve our environment and the health of our communities. And it will improve the lives for Cincinnati residents and businesses who demand high quality public services with the flexibility they desire in their day-to-day lives. And most importantly, it has the ability to do all of this in an equitable manner for all Cincinnatians.

Business News Politics

Cincinnati Expects New Semi-Automated Trash Collection System to Save Money, Prevent Injuries

The City of Cincinnati will phase in a new system of trash collection, over the next few months, that city officials believe will ultimately save taxpayer money, increase worker safety and improve its trash collection efficiency.

For most people trash collection is a matter of setting out a trash bin, either in front of a building or in an alley, and the next day city trash collectors come and haul the trash away. This will continue to the be standard practice as the city moves forward with its new system, but the way the trash collectors come and haul the trash away will change.

Instead of using manual labor, automated toters will be used to pick up trash from new larger trash bins. The new carts will be the same type of 65-gallon bins that are currently used for city recycling, which has been experienced better-than-expected success since being introduced in October 2010 in conjunction with RecycleBank.

Cincinnati Trash Carts
New trash carts have been received by the City of Cincinnati and will start being distributed today. Image provided.

“By implementing standardized trash carts, Cincinnati joins cities across America that have seen tangible benefits to modernizing their trash collection systems,” Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney stated in a prepared statement.

Dohoney has been proposing ideas to modernize the city’s approach to collecting trash for several years in an attempt to reduce annual operating costs largely driven by worker injuries due to heavy lifting. City officials say that the new semi-automated system will eliminate the need for trash collectors to lift the trash cans, and thus improve overall safety.

Dohoney’s efforts over the past several years also included the proposal to levy a trash collection fee in order to help balance out the costs to operate the city’s large trash collection program. This proposal, however, went to the ballot box in November 2011 and voters banned the City of Cincinnati from being able to levy such a fee by a slight margin.

The new program enhancements will start rolling out today, and city officials say that more than 90,000 households are due to receive the new 65-gallon, black trash bins between now and August.

The trash bins will be delivered according to the day of trash pick-up with Mayor Mark Mallory (D) personally delivering the first one this morning to a homeowner in West Price Hill. Those with Monday trash pick-up should be receiving their new bins this month.

While city officials expect the new semi-automated system to save taxpayer money in the long-run, they also hope to experience even greater savings as they transition to one-person collection crews.

“Trash carts will help create a safer work environment, and that means we save taxpayers’ money by reducing costly injuries,” said Michael Robinson, Director of the Department Public Services. “They’re also going to help keep Cincinnati’s neighborhoods cleaner because of the attached lids and wind-resistance.”

Even though most residences will benefit from the new service, the City says that it will not be able to extend the new method to commercial and multi-family buildings with five or more units. In a response to a resident complaint, Larry Falkin, Director of the Office of Environmental Quality, explained that the change is due to multi-family buildings being run by either out-of-town property owners or by condominium associations that typically contract out for their own trash collection services.

“Many people want to receive services from government, and many people do not want to financially support government. Government can not increase services, or even maintain services, with declining revenues,” stated Falkin.

While the demands on manual labor will decrease as a result of the new system and transition to one-person crews, city officials note that those individuals will be transitioned to perform other city services.

Arts & Entertainment News

EcoSculpt on Fountain Square installs today

For the second year in a row, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has commissioned EcoSculpt on Fountain Square. To celebrate Earth Day in Cincinnati’s living room, the event is sculpture contest by area artists with works made entirely out of recycled and/or recyclable materials.

12 local sculptors are working today to install their works. From whales made of trash to crocheted plastic bags, the resulting art will be available to view through April 28. With some works as large as ten feet tall by ten feet wide, the result is a visible statement about utilizing and encouraging the use of recycling and recyclable materials in everyday Cincinnatians’ lives.

The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCEA) is EcoSculpt’s official sponsor. “We are excited to be a part of such an innovative event,” said Sean Fisher, General Outreach Manager for GCEA. “EcoSculpt not only spreads a message of environmental responsibility, but also provides a stage for emerging artists in the area.”

The event will culminate in an awards program on Earth Day, April 22 at 12pm on Fountain Square. Those interested can check out the sculptures on Fountain Square this weekend, and vote on their favorites at online. The votes will be used to help determine the 2011 People’s Choice Award winner.

EcoSculpt 2010 photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

News Politics

Cincinnati wins $5,000 first-place prize in national recycling contest

Cincinnati has won the American Recycler Video Award and the $5,000 first-place prize that goes along with it for the City’s recycling efforts. The contest was sponsored by the National Mayoral Congress, Keep America Beautiful, and The Novelis Corp., and asked participating cities to create a short, web-based film promoting aluminum can recycling while also incorporating the 2009 theme of “Recycling starts with I CAN.”

The finalists from California, Minnesota, Alabama, Florida and Ohio were selected by the sponsors, and then voted on by the general public. Cincinnati’s entry was produced by Cincinnati-based Get Sick Productions, in association with the Office of Environmental Quality, and will be used as the 2010 commercial for the Cans for Cash initiative.

“The videos showcased the diversity of communities and their unique approaches to recycling and again proved that cities are leading the charge towards a greener tomorrow,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Congratulations to the City of Cincinnati on their impressive win and all the cities on their commitment to recycling programs.”

Cincinnati will be honored at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 78th Winter Meeting in Washington D.C. this January along with a host of other cities for their innovative recycling programs and impressive recycling rates.

News Politics

Little by Little, Cincinnati Improves Recycling Program

Last week the city of Cincinnati announced changes to its current curbside recycling program. Members of City Council, Mayor Mallory and representatives from Rumpke and the Office of Environmental Quality gathered at the original LaRosa’s pizza location on Boudinot Avenue to make their announcement. In partnership with Rumpke Recycling, the City will now collect more items than ever before including all plastic bottle types (still no lids), jugs and pizza boxes (no leftover pepperoni or banana peppers please). Additionally, households can put out multiple recycling bins if their recycling needs exceeds the single green bin.

Click here to order your extra recycling bin.

Acceptable Items for Recycling:

  • All plastic bottles and jugs (no lids)
  • Glass jars and bottles of any color
  • Aluminum, steel and bi-metal cans
  • Empty aerosol cans with lids and tips removed
  • Brown grocery bags
  • Computer paper, and other mixed office paper
  • Corrugated cardboard, broken down to 3′ X 3′
  • Envelopes, with or without windows
  • Junk mail
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers with inserts
  • Paperboard, such as cereal boxes
  • Telephone books
  • Pizza boxes (free of food residue)

Download the list of acceptable recycling materials and guidelines to keep around the house or post for your tenants.

Please be sure to rinse out and dry all jars, jugs and bottles before placing them in your bin. Bottle caps are not currently accepted in the City recycling program, however, plastic lids (i.e. milk jugs) can be taken to any Aveda Institute for recycling. Metal lids (i.e. spaghetti sauce jars) can be recycled at any scrap dealer in the area who accepts steel.

For those residents who do not currently have curbside recycling services (households who have private trash service dumpsters) can collect their recyclables and take them to various recycling drop off locations around the city. Signage at the drop off centers will be updated within the next few weeks to reflect the changes in materials accepted.

Rumpke has not expanded these changes to the entirety of its service area. These changes are only reflected for the City of Cincinnati. According to Sue Magness from the Office of Environmental Quality, “Technically, the new sorting facility is still under construction and they are temporarily warehousing the materials. So Rumpke will expand as new contracts are established (as in the case of the City), or after the installation of the “state of the art” equipment is complete.”

The announcement comes on the heels of tumultuous budget discussions that backtracked on a funding promise that would have provided new larger recycling carts for Cincinnatians and gotten the city started with a RecycleBank program that rewards users for the amount they recycle. Those upgrades to the City’s recycling program would have paid for themselves almost immediately through the higher payments the City would have received from Rumpke Recycling for higher recycling volumes.

Cincinnati Recycling Program Announcement photograph by Jenny Kessler.