Improper disposal ruins Toledo's recycling

Nearly 40 percent of recyclable material taken to landfill

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    A courtesy note left on the door of a resident on Balkan Pl. to alert the homeowner to recycling issues on June 26.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • Too many Toledoans are still trashing the city's recycling efforts — costing taxpayers more and adding more to finite municipal landfill space, officials said Monday as they discussed this year’s inspection strategy.

    Nearly 40 percent of the recyclable material city residents place in blue carts every other week is not recycled. Instead, that much ends up in a landfill, said Bill Franklin, the city's commissioner of public service.

    IN PICTURES: Toledo inspectors look into city recycling bins for proper items

    The reason: people either mistakenly, maliciously, or absentmindedly place junk, debris, and waste in those carts that are supposed to be filled with things like cardboard, paper, plastic containers, and metal cans, Mr. Franklin said.

    VIDEO: Toledoans trashing city’s recycling efforts

    The city's blue recycling bins last year were stuffed with an array of non-recyclable material, including the kitchen sink — literally.

    Records show the two inspectors who crisscrossed Toledo last year found a kitchen sink in a recycling cart along with things like yard waste, food waste, roofing shingles, a tub of dog feces, a child trampoline, stadium folding chairs, an aquarium, golf clubs, garbage cans, and plastic bags. Lots of plastic bags.

    “Plastic bags are not acceptable,” Mr. Franklin said. “People think because they are plastic so they can go into the blue carts … at the processing center, the bags get tangled and slow the whole line down.”

    Recyclables have to be placed in the carts loose — not in plastic bags. Bagging up things like plastic bottles, metal cans, or cardboard like cereal and pizza boxes offers those materials a one-way ticket to the dump, he said.

    The city collects 90,000 tons a year of trash and another 22,000 tons of recyclables. But 37 percent of that 22,000 tons is dumped into the landfill because of garbage contamination, said Dan Pittman, the city's landfill operations manager.

    “We are double where we need to be, so we need to cut that [contamination rate] in half,” Mr. Pittman said.

    The Hicks-Hudson administration can fine offenders but has opted instead to try educating people. Toledo can issue a $75 ticket for first violation, $150 for a second offense, and $300 the third time.

    City spokesman Janet Schroeder said no one was ticketed for improper recycling during the past 12 months since Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson publicly pleaded with Toledoans to do a better job recycling.

    Last year, the city spent nearly $15,000 to hire two employees though an employment agency to look in recycling carts and alert residents about the things they spotted placed incorrectly.

    Terrence Haynes, a city employee, was out Monday to look in the blue carts and place notices on the doors of offending residents.

    “They are going to learn today,” Mr. Haynes said comically while on on Balkan Place.

    Those who got it correct received a congratulatory notice, marked with a handwritten smiley face from Mr. Haynes.

    Recycling incorrectly costs the city more.

    The city paid $15.2 million for its solid-waste operations. That included paying $9.27 million annually for refuse and recyclable-material collection; $4.36 million for landfill operations and capital costs; $1.08 million to hire ReCommunity Recycling, based in Charlotte, to process Toledoans' recyclable materials, and $550,000 for administrative expenses.

    This year, the bill to ReCommunity is about $1.5 million and could be even higher if the recyclables continue to be filled with trash, city officials said.

    “We used to receive money for the recyclables we had — like $250,000 a year — and now were are paying $1.5 million a year to get rid of it,” Mr. Franklin said.

    Contact Ignazio Messina at: or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.