Recycling in Limaland: A review

Recycling is a well-developed habit for many in the Lima area. The Lima News’ recent Earth Day recycling event proved that. More than 500 cars drove through the newspaper’s parking lot April 30, delivering plastic bottles, metal cans, paper, old latex paint, electronic equipment and other recyclable waste during the course of the four-hour event.

The robust response contradicts Lima’s and Allen County’s actual recycling results. The North Central Ohio Solid Waste Management District, which consists of Allen, Hardin, Champaign, Madison, Shelby and Union counties, reported a 23.7 percent recycling rate in 2014, the most recent year data was available. That lags behind other Lima area waste districts. It also falls short of the state’s goal of a 25 percent rate for residential and commercial recycling.

District officials said the numbers were not an accurate reflection of the amount of recycling that’s occurring. And some industry officials question whether new metrics need to be used to assess a community’s recycling efforts.

Low recycling rate

Recycling rates are calculated as a percentage of the weight of the total waste stream. In 2014, the most recent year for data, residents and businesses of the North Central Ohio Solid Waste Management District generated 291,685 tons of garbage, according to the Ohio Department of Environmental Protection. Out of that, some 69,000 tons were kept out of landfills through recycling. That gave NCO a recycling rate of 23.6 percent.

That’s the lowest rate in Limaland. Putnam County, by comparison, had an astounding 85.6 percent residential and commercial recycling rate in 2014. Auglaize’s rate was 49.5, Hancock, 39.2 and Mercer, 34.5.

Jim Skora, senior manager with GT Environmental Inc., a consulting firm that works with NCO and other solid waste management districts, including Auglaize County and Van Wert County, said the numbers for NCO are not an accurate reflection of how much recycling is actually occurring. For one thing, he said, they’re based on data collected by a voluntary survey of recycling vendors.

“We get 10, 20, at most 30 percent returns of the survey,” Skora said. “It’s a numbers game.”

However, it’s a game that every other district is playing, too.

“The quick and dirty answer is, every district is doing more because they’re not getting 100 percent information back,” he said of the surveys. “It is what it is.”

He said it’s hard to compare NCO’s figures with districts such as Putnam, Auglaize and Mercer because they’re smaller, single-county districts with their own recycling centers. Auglaize alone has 10 recycling drop-off sites and its own materials recovery facility, or MRF, where recyclables are sorted and baled. NCO, by comparison, is made up of six counties that are served by just four drop-off centers in Kenton, Lima, Sidney and Marysville and two MRFs.

Rural districts such as Auglaize, Putnam and Mercer are “more intimate, more integrated,” and are able to put up better recycling numbers, Skora said.

Questioning the numbers

Skora also questions whether Putnam’s 85.6 percent rate is accurate.

Of the 51,079 tons Putnam reported collecting from residents and retailers in 2014, 90 percent of it — 41,914 tons — came from ferrous metals: Steel, carbon steel, stainless steel, cast iron and wrought iron, the kind of material that is more typical in industrial recycling, which is tracked separately.

“To have that high a level, it’s probably scrapyard data,” Skora said.

The number does appear to be an anomaly, skewing Putnam’s 2014 results. From 2010 to 2012, Putnam’s residential and commercial ferrous metal recycling tonnages averaged around 3,200 tons. In 2013, it reported no ferrous metal residential and commercial recycling at all. Its recycling rates for those earlier years were lower, too, averaging around 54 percent.

Putnam’s former recycling coordinator, Ashley Siefkert, couldn’t say why ferrous metal collection soared in 2014.

“Nothing sticks out in my mind,” she said.

Siefkert said state Environmental Protection Agency officials questioned it, too, but ultimately accepted the district’s figures. Its 85.6 recycling rate is the highest in the state. Logan County came in second at 53 percent. Pike County’s solid waste district is dead last, with a recycling rate of just 4.8 percent.

Metrics

The debate over numbers is not just at the local level. Nationally, sanitation and recycling professionals are questioning whether landfill diversion rates based on tonnages are the right way to evaluate the success of a recycling program.

“The plastic water bottle contains less plastic now than it did 25 years ago,” said David Biderman, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, an industry group. “What we’re seeing is an increase in the number of units being recycled, but the recycling rate overall, on a weight basis, is relatively stable,” hovering around 34 percent since 2011.

Biderman said his members will discuss using other recycling metrics during their annual meeting in August.

Ohio EPA has long recognized that some districts would have trouble hitting target diversion rates.

“Several areas were having difficulty meeting a numerical recycling goal because the infrastructure was not in place,” wrote Ohio EPA spokeswoman Lindey Amer in an e-mail. That includes NCO.

Since 1995, the state has allowed districts such as NCO to measure their recycling success based on whether at least 90 percent of its residents had access to recycling activities and opportunities. North Central Ohio Solid Waste District has met that criteria.

District officials also point out that the average amount of recyclables generated per person has been on the rise, from 115 pounds in 2010 to 163 pounds in 2014.

Keys to success

Even when 2014’s boom in ferrous metal recycling is set aside, Putnam County has consistently high recycling numbers. It’s been more than 50 percent since 2011. It must be doing something right.

“We have a lot of buy-in from the community,” Siefkert said.

While other districts, including NCO, charges people to recycle old paint and electronic waste such as old TVs and microwaves, she pointed out that Putnam’s drop-off recycling program is free, funded by the sale of recyclable material, by grants, and by county funds. Siefkert said the district also actively reaches out to area businesses, such as sending workers and collection bins to a local TruValue Hardware store to collect cardboard boxes after its recent move to a new location.

“We love the relationships that we make with businesses and residents,” wrote Alaina Siefker, Putnam’s new recycling coordinator (no relation to Ashley Siefker), in an email. “If it wasn’t for all of them doing such a great job with doing their recycling, our program wouldn’t be where it is today.”

In Auglaize County, where the residential and commercial recycling rate of 49.5 percent is the third highest in Ohio, district Director Scott Cisco said community groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts volunteer at its nine drop-off sites. Community organizations also help sort recyclables by material and color, making them more valuable on the resale market.

“We give them a percentage of what we get,” Cisco said. “Last year, all the groups combined got $69,785.35.”

Little value

Recycling coordinators are quick to point out that, while they get money for the sale of their recyclables, that income doesn’t begin to cover their programs’ costs.

Cisco pointed to a bale of plastic shopping bags that was about as high and wide as a golf cart.

“The market will give me $15 for that,” he said. “It cost about $30 or $40 to process, to sort it and bale it. The [baling] wire alone is about $16.”

This unsustainable economic model is at the root of what ails recycling.

The industry giant, Waste Management, goes so far as to call it a “crisis” in its 2015 Sustainability Report Update.

“We must have honest conversations about cost,” wrote president and CEO David Steiner, “if recycling is going to be sustainable over the long term.”

For NCO, efforts to improve its recycling rate will begin with increased efforts to educate people on what should and shouldn’t go into their recycling bins. Skora said NCO’s next five-year solid waste management plan aims to put “boots on the ground”: inspectors who will look at what has been set out on the curb.

“We want to educate folks on what’s recyclable and what’s not recyclable so we can decrease the contamination,” he said, “but we can also hopefully increase the good material. They may be throwing away stuff that is recyclable and they didn’t know it.”

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Josh Hillery of Van Wert Solid Waste Management dumps a bag of recyclables during Thursday’s Drop of Recycling at the Lima Mall parking lot. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_recycle-RP-03.jpgJosh Hillery of Van Wert Solid Waste Management dumps a bag of recyclables during Thursday’s Drop of Recycling at the Lima Mall parking lot. Richard Parrish | The Lima News

Mike Beckman of Van Wert Recycling pours used motor oil into a drum for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_01co.jpgMike Beckman of Van Wert Recycling pours used motor oil into a drum for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Ruth Montes of Van Wert Recycling selects books to be placed into the George Brake Memorial Library at the recycling center. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_02co.jpgRuth Montes of Van Wert Recycling selects books to be placed into the George Brake Memorial Library at the recycling center. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Bales of recycled plastic which weight up to 500 pounds are ready to be shipped out for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_03co.jpgBales of recycled plastic which weight up to 500 pounds are ready to be shipped out for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Bales of tin cans which weight up to 700 pounds are ready to be shipped out for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_04co.jpgBales of tin cans which weight up to 700 pounds are ready to be shipped out for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

A curbside truck unloads paper products at Van Wert Recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_05co.jpgA curbside truck unloads paper products at Van Wert Recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Vickie Marbaugh of Van Wert Recycling loads the plastics conveyor. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_06co.jpgVickie Marbaugh of Van Wert Recycling loads the plastics conveyor. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Vickie Marbaugh of Van Wert Recycling loads the plastics conveyor. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_07co.jpgVickie Marbaugh of Van Wert Recycling loads the plastics conveyor. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Matt Bland, left, with Josh Hillery and Bob McGuire sort out plastics at the top of the conveyor. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_08co.jpgMatt Bland, left, with Josh Hillery and Bob McGuire sort out plastics at the top of the conveyor. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

A curbside truck unloads paper products at Van Wert Recycling.
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_09co.jpgA curbside truck unloads paper products at Van Wert Recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Bales of aluminum cans which weight up to 664 pounds are ready to be shipped out for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycling_10co.jpgBales of aluminum cans which weight up to 664 pounds are ready to be shipped out for recycling. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Mike Perry, left, of Van Wert Solid Waste Management takes a load of recyclables from co worker Josh Hillery during Thursday’s Drop of Recycling at the Lima Mall parking lot. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_recycle-RP-01.jpgMike Perry, left, of Van Wert Solid Waste Management takes a load of recyclables from co worker Josh Hillery during Thursday’s Drop of Recycling at the Lima Mall parking lot. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Josh Hillery, left, of Van Wert Solid Waste Management takes a load of recyclables from Larry Vandemark during Thursday’s Drop of Recycling at the Lima Mall parking lot. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_recycle-RP-02.jpgJosh Hillery, left, of Van Wert Solid Waste Management takes a load of recyclables from Larry Vandemark during Thursday’s Drop of Recycling at the Lima Mall parking lot. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-01.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-02.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-03.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-04.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-06.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-07.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-05.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-08.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-09.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-11.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Ashley Siefker, left, and Community Recycling Coordinator Alaina Siefker at the Auglaize County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-12.jpgAshley Siefker, left, and Community Recycling Coordinator Alaina Siefker at the Auglaize County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Items to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima News
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/web1_Recycle-Ottawa-RP-10.jpgItems to be recycled at the Putnam County Recycling Center in Ottawa. Richard Parrish | The Lima NewsCraig J. Orosz | The Lima News

By Amy Eddings

[email protected]

RECYCLING BY THE NUMBERS

Based on Ohio Department of Environmental Protection 2014 Annual District Reports:

Allen and Hardin (North Central Ohio Solid Waste Management District, which also includes Madison, Shelby, Union, Champaign)

23.7% residential/commercial

73.7% industrial

Auglaize:

49.5% residential/commercial

84.3% industrial

Hancock:

39.2% residential/commercial

85.2% industrial

Mercer:

34.5% residential/commercial

97.6% industrial

Putnam:

85.6% residential/commercial (1st among state solid waste districts)

99.3% industrial

Van Wert:

Did not submit data to Ohio EPA

TOP 5 RECYCLERS IN ALLEN COUNTY IN 2014 BY POUNDS GENERATED PER CAPITA

Bluffton, 1,104 lbs/capita/year

Lima, 260.4 lbs/cap/yr

Delphos, 214.5 lbs/cap/yr

Elida, 193.6 lbs/cap/yr

Sugar Creek Township, 104.7 lbs/cap/yr

BOTTOM 5 RECYCLERS IN ALLEN COUNTY IN 2014 BY POUNDS GENERATED PER CAPITA

American Township, 3.0 lbs/cap/yr

Shawnee Township, 4.6 lbs/cap/yr

Perry Township, 12.0 lbs/cap/yr

Amanda Township, 31.3 lbs/cap/yr

Cairo, 34.2 lbs/cap/yr

Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter @lima_eddings.