This past Monday, on the eve of our normal trash day, a 96-gallon, four-wheeled present arrived on our tree lawn. (That’s what we, in Northeast Ohio, call the green space between the sidewalk and the curb.)
A municipally-charged excitement rolled through my neighborhood of 100-plus-year-old colonials on postage stamp-sized lots as homeowner after homeowner discovered that they were the new owners of their very own majestic blue recycling carts.
“Hon! We finally got our recycling cart!” I shouted to my husband after I pulled back on our bedroom curtain to ascertain the cause of early-morning clamor. Our refuse workers apparently weren’t operating in stealth during their delivery mission.
As I did a happy dance down the stairs and out of my house to inspect the cart up close, I realized this was a moment; one that went beyond my personal elation that I’d no longer have to navigate the hot mess of recyclables cluttering the landing of our basement steps—a dicey dodge I’d been doing for the last 11 years.
This was a moment for civic pride. My city’s commitment to single-stream recycling had matured beyond the infancy of hand-tossed blue bags. Its green-minded goal of 60 percent landfill diversion was within reach of the steel grips of big-boy automation. Our street, along with a total of 6,000 other households, had now joined forces with fellow cart diverters as part of the third and final phase of the city’s $1.47 million recycling initiative.
In an effort to streamline waste collection, save money, and encourage environmental stewardship, my adopted hometown of Lakewood, Ohio, began the first of three phases in 2013. An eclectic suburb situated along Lake Erie, Lakewood is several miles west of downtown Cleveland.
The city counts more than 50,000 residents in five square miles and has been referred to as one of the most densely-populated cities between New York and Chicago. Home to many hip restaurants and small business storefronts, our city is diverse with a socio-economic landscape that includes everyone from Burmese refugees to executives living in mansions along our Great Lake. Our city’s public high school is a melting pot where more than 30 languages are spoken. (I’m not sure I can even name 30 languages, even with the help of my daughter, who is finishing her sophomore year at the school.)
All that greatness aside, I’ve been intensely jealous of thousands of Lakewoodites who have been able to toss all their recyclable materials into single, tidy carts during the last two years. The enviable simplicity of having one designated place for all paper, aluminum, glass, cardboard, metal and plastic is a beautiful thing. No need to buy expensive blue bags that often sat deflated on my front porch waiting for trash day; or worse yet, buried under snowfall or bloated from spring rains.
After the moment of silent admiration passed, I pulled out my iPhone to document the day, added a filter to the image and posted it to Facebook.
“I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. Our recycling cart was just delivered. Yippee!” I announced on social media. Comments came in like rapid fire—neighbors wondering if the whole street got them and other friends, residents on other straggling streets, lamenting their wait to receive their carts.
“Isn’t it funny how excited we get over a trash can?” one neighbor commented.
No surprise here. The conversion to curbside carts almost always translates into larger recycling collections for municipalities. That’s exciting news for everybody, especially the city which expects to see a “big boost” in recycling numbers, lowered landfill fees and enhanced diversion rates.
A conservative estimation of an increase of 50 percent in curbside recycling volume from 3,800 tons to 5,700 tons will reduce the city’s disposal costs by $120,000 per year upon full implementation of automated curbside recycling, according to Chris Perry, unit manager of refuse and recycling for Lakewood.
Lakewood recycled 16,261 tons of material in 2014—its highest level ever in a single year. This figure represented nearly 51 percent of the city’s total municipal solid waste.
“The results from the first two phases are proving to be greatly effective, as we strengthen our environmental and economic sustainability,” Perry says. At the beginning of 2016, city officials will expect a return on the investment within five years. “I also think our efforts align with our residents’ desire for sound governance; many residents who I have talked to share the passion and ideals associated with our city’s green initiatives.”
A passionate recycler, who hoards materials in my car if I’m out and I can’t find a bin, I know this accessible cart will encourage greater recycling activity in and out of my house, especially among my teen and husband who truly mean well but prefer the-easier-the-better solution. And really, why shouldn’t recycling be easy, convenient, clean and enjoyable in the year 2015? Thankfully, it is all those things at our house.
Now I’m off to find some poor recycler in need of my remaining stash of blue bags.
Chrissy Kadleck is a contributor to Waste360 covering the recycling beat.