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Tallmadge is No. 1 recycling community in Summit, but county recycling far below national average

By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Anna Bierce shows the collected food waste saved for composting. (Michael Chritton/Akron Beacon Journal)
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TALLMADGE: Anna Bierce is a gung-ho, hard-core recycler.

She and her family rely on Republic Services to pick up a bin of No. 1 and 2 plastics each week. She drops off two bins of papers, cardboard and food boxes at local collection sites. She even drives to a friend’s house in Akron so that No. 3 through No. 7 plastics get recycled via the city’s program.

“It’s a good thing,” Bierce, 54, said of recycling. “It makes a difference. ... Anything I can do, I will do.”

It’s appropriate that she lives in Tallmadge, because the city can boast of being the No. 1 recycling community in Summit County.

The typical household in Tallmadge recycled 9.57 pounds of material per week in 2010, according to a new, first-time analysis of Summit County recycling. Included in the figure are glass, paper, aluminum, bimetals, cardboard and plastics; excluded are yard waste, appliances, tires and other recyclable items.

Tallmadge’s curbside recycling topped 30 other local communities. Second was Silver Lake at 6.51 pounds, followed by Twinsburg, 6.45 pounds; Hudson, 6.32 pounds; and Twinsburg Township, 6.13 pounds.

The county recycling average was 5.40 pounds per week — 5.27 pounds via curbside pickups and 0.13 pounds at collection sites.

Michelle Nestor of Nestor Resources Inc. of Valencia, Pa., compiled the report for the Summit-Akron Solid Waste Management Authority to provide the first detailed look at countywide recycling.

Nestor’s rather blunt assessment: Recycling is lagging in Summit County.

There’s not enough curbside recycling programs or drop-off facilities in the county, and participation is low, she told the authority. “There’s not a lot of recovery going on,” she said.

Some American cities recycle 10 to 18 pounds per week of residential recyclables, Nestor said.

Yolanda Walker, executive director of the authority, said the recycling results were troubling. She said the report is “disappointing and an eye-opener ... and it shows us what a huge opportunity we have to boost recycling.”

Her district is under a state mandate to provide at least 25 percent recycling of residential-commercial waste.

Akron’s totals are “very disheartening,” said spokesman Paul Barnett, Akron’s Public Works manager. The city averaged 3.95 pounds per week of residential recycling, according to the new assessment.

He called Akron’s low ranking “a reality check. There’s nowhere to go but up.”

Akron officials are unsure if the problem is low participation or the overall volume of trash getting recycled, Barnett said, but new educational programs are planned to boost Akron’s recycling volumes and quality.

About 76 percent of Akron’s 69,000 residences recycle and qualify for a $2-per-month discount on trash collection, he said.

In 2010, Summit County recycled 20,854 tons of glass, plastic, aluminum, bimetals and plastics, or just under 4 percent of the total residential-commercial-industrial waste stream of 521,626 tons.

But there is a better way to assess recycling, Nestor said in a telephone interview.

She said to look at the estimated volume of residential recyclables out there and determine what percentage gets recycled, she said.

Nationally, about 60 percent gets recycled, but that figure is lower in Summit County — about 23 percent, she said.

“That’s not bad. That’s not terrible,” she said.

The county produces about 152,545 tons of materials that could be recycled annually at the curb, of which 90,972 tons would be recovered if Summit County were to match the national norm, Nestor said.

The biggest reason recycling lags in Ohio is that it is not mandatory, she said.

Also, tonnage from Akron and other communities is lower because of the influx of green-and-yellow recycling bins for papers that two companies offer, Nestor said. Those bins benefit schools, churches and other nonprofit groups.

Akron and other communities do not get credit for recycling that newspaper.

Providing data

In the past, recycling totals were available from only Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls with their municipal trash pickups and recycling programs. Elsewhere in Summit County, private haulers, which had refused to provide recycling totals, handled the pickups.

But the solid-waste authority has provided recycling grants to local communities and has asked municipalities to provide recycling data. The communities have pressed the private haulers, and they are providing notarized data that in turn have been submitted to the authority in recent years.

Nestor analyzed and compiled the data that give the first in-depth look at local recycling totals.

What she found is important and will help the authority reshape local recycling efforts, Walker said.

Curbside programs get better numbers than drop-off bins and should be started where possible, Nestor said.

Fairlawn with 2.99 pounds and Sagamore Hills Township with 2.16 pounds were the best drop-off recycling communities. The lowest recycling figures came from Stow. The typical Stow household recycled 1.89 pounds per week, according to Nestor’s data.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Stow Service Director Michael Miller said.

The community uses four haulers.

Six communities were excluded from the list for various reasons: Coventry Township, Mogadore, New Franklin, Northfield Village, Norton and Reminderville.

They had no local recycling or recycling was piecemeal, and getting information was difficult or the community failed to report recycling information, Walker said.

City surprised by ranking

Tallmadge Service Director Bryan Esler admitted that city officials were puzzled why the city of 6,600 households is No. 1 in recycling volumes for Summit County.

“I wish I knew, but I have no idea,” he said.

In 2009-10, the solid-waste authority made a push by education specialist Shelly Kadilak to increase recycling participation in Tallmadge. That might have made an impact, said Walker, the agency’s executive director.

That program included organizing community meetings, drafting volunteers to enlist recycling support from others and organizing educational and promotional drives, including billboards, promotions and giveaways.

Bierce, who helped in that effort, is excited by her city’s top ranking.

“I’m thrilled to hear that,” she said. “I’ve got goose bumps hearing that.”

Her family throws out very little trash, because Bierce is recycling nearly everything, she said.

Her family, including husband, David, and 17-year-old daughter Cassidy, constantly teases her about her recycling efforts, she said.

She even picks up trash in her neighborhood while riding her bike. It is equipped with a basket that she can fill.

“I’ve always taken to heart the old adage: Don’t be a litterbug,” she said.

Bierce used to drive to an Akron scrap yard to recycle materials with her twin sons, Thomas and Peter, now 25 and living in South Carolina. The then-youngsters would earn a few dollars they could use to buy candy.

Recycling takes a few minutes, but it is not difficult and it makes a difference, Bierce said.

“We have to do something,” she said. “We can’t leave the world a giant trash pile. We really don’t have a choice. Recycling is something that we all need to do. It makes me feel better.”

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.