Solid Waste will cancel all curbside recycling contracts at the end of the year in a bid to standardize pricing

The Portage County Solid Waste Management District has had to cut back services because of a lack of workers. Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

In a sweeping resolution to the county’s curbside recycling conundrum, the Portage County recycling center will end all curbside pickup contracts at the end of the year and ask the communities to approve standardized annual agreements.

Affected communities are Atwater, Brimfield Township, Franklin Township, Kent, Mantua Township, Ravenna and Ravenna Township, Rootstown Township, Shalersville Township, and Suffield Township.

Since taking over as acting director of the Solid Waste Management District last month, Dawn Collins has sought a solution to the recycling center’s financial crisis. The agency has been unable to cover its costs because of the collapse of the overseas market for recyclables and multiple unsustainable municipal contracts, some as long as seven years and some with prices under $3.00 per household per month.

“We’re trying to fix years of poor decisions,” Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said after she and her colleagues approved Collins’ request on Thursday. “We need to make sure there’s parity among the users.”

Communities that opt not to participate in the new agreements have the right to do so. If enough take that path, the commissioners may approve centralized drop-off sites even though several communities have already closed theirs, or are considering it, because they say people are dumping non-recyclable garbage. Better security and surveillance will be a topic for discussion, Christian-Bennett said.

The centralized sites would be necessary because the Ohio EPA demands that counties provide access to recycling of some kind to 92% of the county, based on population. Even with the communities that have dropped out, Collins is still able to meet that mark, at least for now.

A quick survey of communities reveals that Atwater residents already pay $5.50 a month, Ravenna Township residents pay about $2.50, and Ravenna city residents are charged $5.50 for recycling and yard waste collection (the city pays Solid Waste $2.50/month for the recycling portion of that bill). The city of Ravenna’s contract ends Dec. 31; Ravenna Township’s has some two and a half years to go.

Ravenna Township Trustee Hank Gibson is not pleased that their constituents’ recycling costs may soon more than double.

If Ravenna Township residents are willing to continue at the new rate, that’s one thing. If not, Ravenna Township will “reboot,” Gibson said.

“We [the township trustees] are going to have our discussion. I just don’t make decisions without getting some input from my constituents. We need to get feedback,” he said.

The recycling center’s new contracts would run from Jan. 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023, with annual renewals thereafter.

“If we end contracts right at the end of the year, it’s bad news,” Collins said. “That’s the heaviest time of the year. We have Christmas and the boxes…”

Pickup will be every other week, and the monthly cost per resident will be $5.50. Both parties would be able to end the contracts with 60 days written notice, with or without cause, Collins said.

The recycling center has a yearly agreement with Waste Management, a private collector, which processes Portage County’s recyclables. Reacting to market fluctuations, Waste Management passes its savings or losses to its customers on a monthly basis.

That leaves the recycling center taking a monthly gain or loss, Collins said, adding that she hopes $5.50 monthly rate will cover the cost to continue providing curbside service. If it doesn’t, Collins reserves the right to notify communities three months prior to the agreement renewal dates that the new rate will be higher.

“I don’t intend to do that, but I have to cover everyone,” she said.

The district has already canceled its commercial and nonprofit contracts and, effective Jan. 1, will no longer provide service to residential buildings containing more than three units.

Portage County is one of only two counties in Ohio that provide curbside recycling. The other, Van Wert on the Indiana border, has a fraction of Portage County’s population, Collins said.

“A solid waste district’s job is to provide access to recycling. A private sector hauler can do both,” she said.

The recycling center opted not to bid on Aurora’s contract, which ends Dec. 31, as Collins lacks sufficient drivers and trucks. At the center’s urging, again for lack of manpower and trucks, Streetsboro has already opted to transition to a private hauler.

Collins does not want to end curbside service in Portage County but wants to focus on fewer communities, at least for the time being. Doing so will allow her to provide the best and most efficient service possible, she said.

Sometimes a community might put recycling out for bid, but if no one bites, the Solid Waste Management District is the fallback, she said. The service might be curbside or central drop-off, whichever Collins and the community agree upon.

Then there are communities like Freedom Township, which has asked Collins for curbside pickup but cannot get it because the agency lacks drivers and trucks. Freedom currently has no recycling option, and Garrettsville, Windham and Deerfield all ended their recycling programs last year.

Despite what she has heard some people claim, Collins maintains that only 20% of material from the recycling center is landfilled, and that 20% is due to “poor recycling,” when residents throw material like plastic bags, food waste or grass clippings into their bins. That puts Portage County a smidge below the national average, she said.

Clarification: Ravenna city residents pay $5.50 per residence per month for recycling and yard waste collection, not $5.50 for recycling as an earlier version of this story implied. The city’s current contract with the Solid Waste Management District is for $2.50 per residence per month. Additionally, because of incorrect information provided by an Atwater Township official, we incorrectly reported the township’s rate as $2.82 per residence per month. In fact, the township already has a contract with Solid Waste at $5.50, and their rate would not change under the new standardized scheme.

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