By Peter H. Milliken
Mahoning County officials are considering making a radical change in their recycling program.
The 18-gallon, open-topped buckets county residents have been using since the curbside recycling program’s inception more than two decades ago would be replaced with 96-gallon wheeled carts with lids.
The carts would automatically be hoisted and dumped into collection trucks, whose drivers would no longer exit the trucks to manually lift and empty buckets.
The county would buy 47,575 of the carts for $3.1 million, amounting to about $65 per cart, including delivery, according to figures compiled by the county recycling division and presented recently to the county’s solid-waste policy committee.
The county would borrow the money to pay for the carts using an interest-free nine- or 10-year loan from Closed Loop, a program that promotes recycling and is funded by several major corporations, said Jennifer Jones, Green Youngstown coordinator and a voting member of the policy committee.
The loan would be paid off from savings to be achieved by closing some of the county’s recycling drop-off centers, where costs have escalated to $98 each time a full bin is removed and replaced with an empty one, Jones said.
Five years ago, the cost was $84, said Lou Vega, county recycling director.
To fund the carts program, 13 recycling drop-off sites in nine communities would close, Vega said, adding that the remaining drop-off sites would be concentrated in rural areas without curbside recycling.
The county now has 30 drop-off recycling sites.
“The rate of growth [in cost] that the drop-off program is experiencing is, at some point, going to be too much for the district to sustain,” Vega said.
“We spend over $500,000 a year just pulling those bins,” Jones said, noting that the county’s total recycling budget is only $2.3 million a year.
The seven-member committee voted unanimously this month to send the proposed change to the county commissioners’ and auditor’s offices for their consideration.
Jones cited several advantages presented by the carts system, which Liberty Township in Trumbull County converted to Oct. 1:
Because the carts have considerably more capacity than the buckets, residents would be encouraged to recycle more.
The carts are more convenient than buckets because they have wheels, and residents don’t have to lift them to take them to the curb.
The cart lids keep recyclables dry and keep food-seeking animals out of the carts.
Automatic lifting of the carts increases collection productivity.
Because drivers don’t have to leave the trucks, the new system reduces the risk of driver injury due to heavy lifting or being hit by another vehicle while outside the truck.
“It will save us money in the long run,” Jones said of the proposed curbside carts program.
“The proposal seems very good,” Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said, adding that she believes more county residents will recycle if they’re offered the convenience of a wheeled cart.
However, Rimedio-Righetti said of the proposed program: “We need to look at the feasibility of the financial part of it.”
Jones said the new program is in the feasibility study phase and would need approval of the county commissioners, township trustees and city and village mayors.
It likely would be phased in gradually, one community at a time, with the first carts likely being delivered in 2016, at the earliest, Jones said.
As is the case in Mahoning County, Republic Services provides free curbside residential recycling in Liberty every two weeks.
However, in the Liberty program, Republic bought and issued the wheeled carts to all households.
Although they don’t pay for curbside recycling, Liberty residents pay Republic for garbage collection, and Republic has a monopoly on residential garbage collection in Liberty.
The township switched from curbside recycling buckets to the 96-gallon carts because residents said they wanted the convenience of a container on wheels and they wanted a lid to prevent recyclables from blowing away on windy days, said Liberty Township Trustee Jodi Stoyak.
“The cart switchover has been extremely successful. Residents seem to be happy due to the minimal amount of complaints we have received at the township,” said Stoyak, who founded her township’s curbside recycling program five years ago.