Akron is partnering with local and national nonprofit organizations on a $236,000 educational campaign to save the city's recycling program.

The Recycle Right campaign launches June 3 to educate Akron residents and monitor what they're tossing into recycling bins in an effort to curb contamination, which includes unacceptable products that can clog up the system, create delays, drive up costs and jeopardize the whole program. The campaign is modeled after a 2017 pilot program that's credited with a 57% reduction in contamination in Atlanta. Akron hopes to trim contamination by 25% to 35%.

Efforts to make recycling more efficient are ramping up across the country after China, a chief importer of the world's waste, drastically cut back on recyclables last year due to contamination. Much of the unwanted products originated in America, where residents have grown accustomed to "single stream recycling," throwing plastic and metal products into one convenient bin.

But not everything is accepted. Glass, grocery bags and other items can be dangerous to workers and detrimental to local recycling facilities.

“Placing items into curbside recycling carts with the hopes that it will be recycled is called ‘wishcycling,’ and it is harmful to the success of recycling,” said Marcie Kress, the executive director of ReWorks, which is partnering with the city and Keep Akron Beautiful (KAB) on the campaign. “Residents positively impact recycling by only placing the following items into recycling carts: plastic bottles and jugs, cartons, metal beverage and food cans, paper and cardboard.”

To address unsustainable costs and avoid an environmental crisis, the Ohio EPA is working with The Recycling Partnership to support local education programs with grant funding, including $150,000 for the Akron effort supported by $66,000 from KAB and $20,000 from ReWorks, a countywide initiative.

The Recycle Right program in Akron will run through August. The city is promising more details before the launch date of June 3. But a rough sketch includes informational and educational programming, staff inspecting curbside recycling carts, tagging carts with contaminants and providing real-time feedback to affected residents.

“Although we have a modern, well-developed solid waste management system that includes recycling collection and infrastructure, we are not immune from the challenges of the current recycling quality issues the country is facing. Not only is recycling contamination costly, but a single contaminated truckload can cause delays and shutdowns of our recycling process, damage the sorting equipment or even injure workers,” said Mayor Dan Horrigan. “Recycling contamination is a real problem for our city, so we, along with community partners, are taking active steps to correct this issue so we can sustain, and hopefully enhance our recycling program.”

KAB will be sending targeted informational mailers to residents then audit their recycling behavior before following up.

“We know that Akron residents want to recycle and recycle correctly," said KAB Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Flaherty-Ricchiuti. "By educating Akron residents at the cart with easy-to-understand what and what not to recycle tags, we are driving positive behavior change to help the city of Akron capture more quality recyclables. These quality recyclables are then put back into the recycling system stream, creating a healthier economy, a less wasteful planet and stronger communities.”

The city updated its recycling program late last year to ban glass products and start tagging contaminated bins.

Items must be clean, empty and not bagged. A full listing of acceptable (and unacceptable) products is available at https://bit.ly/2EcPZKF.

Residents tagged twice for contamination may lose the $2.50 monthly recycling discount on their trash bills. The city considered scrapping the recycling discount last May, arguing that residents would continue to recycle without the incentive, which was maintained.

 

Contact Doug Livingston at dlivingston@theebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.