Kent favors Republic for waste pickup, a major blow to the county recycling center

A Republic Waste Services recycling center. Photo via Republic Waste Services

Kent City Council is set to jettison its contract with the county recycling center, citing the agency’s failure to submit a bid.

Republic Services, which currently has the city contract to pick up trash, is favored to handle recycling services as well after a council committee vote last week. The five-year contract would be effective July 1, and would reduce monthly recycling costs from $5.50 to $3.00 per resident for biweekly service.

Council members wondered aloud on May 2 why the recycling center — officially, the Portage County Solid Waste Management District — did not submit a bid for the contract. Director Dawn Collins later said she had not been asked to do so. Nor had she felt it necessary.

After presenting Kent’s contract to city council multiple times for changes in 2021, Collins said she and city council agreed in November of that year to make the agreement permanent.

“We made it so it was not continuously changing. Unless I were to have a change, or the city would request a change from us, it would be ongoing,” she said.

Collins had addressed council’s Streets, Sidewalks and Utilities Committee on March 1, telling them “our agreement remains in effect. You don’t have to terminate it. It is continuous, so you can choose to end it. Otherwise it just remains.”

“Dawn is correct,” Kent Service Director Melanie Baker told them by way of clarification. “Our contract does continue. Either person would have to give 60-day notice to end it. … It is continually renewable.”

Since council’s April 5 committee meeting agenda included bids for citywide trash services and did not mention recycling, Collins said she was not concerned. Then she saw the city’s April 12, 2023 legal notice in the Record-Courier soliciting bids for trash and recycling. Bids were due April 28, the same day Kent Law Director Hope Jones said she sent Collins a certified letter formally requesting that the contract be nullified.

Collins said she never received the letter or any 60-day notice.

“I sent a letter to council saying the district would not bid because we had a standardized agreement in place. They still did not end my contract or end my current agreement until after the bid closed,” Collins said. “It was my understanding that if the city was going to end the agreement, it would have been done before a bid would have gone out, and the city saying they wanted a single hauler for both trash and recycling really threw me.”

The entire reason for ending the contract was so Collins could bid and council could see what other options were available, Council Member Roger Sidoti said.

“We figured Portage County would say, ‘We want the business so we’re going to modify the price per lift.’ They’re at $5.50 and everyone else is coming in less. It’s shocking that they wouldn’t know that,” he said. “My feeling is that they didn’t even want to talk. Their belief was that we were just going to rubber stamp, that we were going to keep rolling it over.”

Kent agreed to bi-weekly service at $5.50 a month to help the county out, Sidoti said. Republic’s service will still be biweekly, but will only cost $3 a month. 

Sidoti said he still supports the county, “but in the end, they’ve had five years to get themselves together, and it’s just more of the same. They couldn’t get the prices down for our citizens.”

If city council green-lights the committee’s intent to end that agreement, the recycling center’s future is “a good question,” Collins said. Losing Kent could have any number of consequences, the least of which could be job losses. The future of the recycling center itself, since Kent is its largest customer, will have to be examined, she said.

County Commissioner Tony Badalamenti said the recycling center will be impacted but will remain in business, noting that a number of Kent city leaders wish to remain with the county.

“The center will continue. They will move in a different direction. We’ve had discussions about some of the programs we would have. Losing Kent will hurt it, but it won’t stop it,” he said.

Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said Kent’s decision is purely based on economics. The county, which has to charge true fees for recycling, simply cannot compete with a commercial hauler that can provide trash and recycling pickup, she said.

Baker said the Republic bid includes continuation of the popular spring cleanup service, adding the last three years “had gone off without a hitch.”

And new provisions include the addition of a tire drop-off service and lower costs for emptying the more than 100 city center cans multiple times a week during the summer months.

“I note this because we do get some complaints during the summer months when pizza boxes are crammed into them, so we are looking at additional provisions,” she said.

Bidders were invited to tender offers for trash collection, recycling pickup, tire services and the city center can collection and could customize their bids for any or all of the parts offered. Alternate bids were also permitted though none were submitted.

Portage County Solid Waste Management District will continue to receive a portion of Republic’s landfill tipping fees, so losing Kent will not mean a loss of all revenue, she said.

“I don’t think it would kill the center. I think it would take more than that,” she said.

Council will need to make a final vote to award Republic Services with Kent’s trash and recycling contracts. Should Republic get the nod, that company would deliver new recycling bins. Collins said details as to the county picking up its blue bins are yet to be determined.

A fuel surcharge clause is built into the proposed contract, which would allow Republic to bill the city additionally should fuel prices rise sharply, as a factor outside the firm’s control, using independently collected data on fuel prices in the Midwest.

Baker added she had heard concerns that recycling was simply being dumped in landfill sites and stressed this would violate the contract’s terms and cost the provider more than recycling the waste.

Speaking for Republic, Akron-Canton area general manager Brent Bowker said, “Our company does not permit putting recycling in landfill. It is illegal, I cannot do it, I would lose my job.”

He said recycling is currently processed at a facility in Akron but will be switching to an expanded Cleveland in the future for processing. “Recycling isn’t profitable now. We are a sustainability company. Unfortunately it costs more to recycle.”

“We have prototypes of electric trucks,” he said. “This is the future of garbage collection, and by 2030 our goal is to have 65% of our fleet running under electricity.”

He added landfill sites also are tapped for natural gas to make electricity or feed the grid, and this will be happening at the landfill site serving Kent.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.

Mark Baxter
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