The Tremont based Clean Garbage Recycling Co-op tackles Cleveland’s recycling dilemma

The Tremont based Clean Garbage Recycling Co-op tackles Cleveland’s recycling dilemma

by Bruce Checefsky

(Plain Press, November 2020)                 Fox 8 News I Team’s Ed Gallek and Peggy Gallek reported in November 2019 that the City of Cleveland is dumping all recycling into a landfill. Their report found the City of Cleveland no longer has a contract with an outside company to haul away the recycling collected by city crews. They proved it by putting GPS trackers in recycling containers. 

     “The system is so broken, there’s no contract with any company to take away any of the recycling collected,” the report stated.

     In response to the Gallek’s story, Mayor Jackson promised to review new bids for a recycling contract. The News I Team also reported in August that the City of Cleveland is paying more than $128,000 in consulting fees to identify a new recycling contractor. At the same time, it remains clear that so far nothing has been decided.

     As jaw dropping as it sounds, many cities across the United States have canceled their recycling programs. The cost of recycling has skyrocketed during the past few years due, in part, to the complexity and abundance of the recycled trash. With too much trash mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics, there are fewer buyers. Recycling companies are charging more.

     According to a published report in the New York Times, some cities have experienced a 400% increase in recycling, leaving local governments to consider raising additional taxes or cut other municipal services. Officials in mid-size cities like Philadelphia and Memphis as well as large municipalities in Florida, California, Connecticut, and other states faced the reality that their curbside program was not working and suspended it. The culprit is mainly China, which until 2018 was the largest buyer of recycled materials in the United States. The Chinese government stopped accepting the shipments, too much trash was mixed with recyclables. Prices increased in the global scrap market resulting in a shut down. 

     When the City of Cleveland stopped their recycling program, Tremont resident Deb Smith was upset. She responded by organizing a grassroots recycling neighborhood program.

     “We’re doing this primarily in response to the City of Cleveland cancelling recycling,” Smith said. “I was going to start a program anyway but when we realized the city was putting recycling into the landfill, we decided to start a co-op program in Tremont. We’re called Clean Garbage Recycling.”

     Clean Garbage Recycling started at the Tremont Farmers Market in August with the help of Tremont West Development Corporation. The program is focused on clean stream recycling with recyclables like aluminum cans and steel. In August and September, they collected over 220 pounds of aluminum and 91 pounds of steel. Once the Farmers Market closed in October, Clean Garbage Recycling began to strategize ways of making the program available year-round. A paper retriever is currently located at the Greek Orthodox Church parking lot at the corner of W14th Street and Fairfield Ave for clean paper and cardboard including hard covered books, office waste like folders and envelopes, and shredded paper.

     For clean aluminum byproducts, Clean Garbage Recycling is placing recycling collection bins around the neighborhood. Members of the newly formed co-op, which is free and open to the public, will receive a code, which allows them to open the collection bins and prevent people using them as trashcans.  A collection bin for the clean steel is in the works. The co-op will sell the recyclables and use the income to support the program.

     “Unfortunately, there’s very little money in recycling. We’re trying to create a model that is self-sustaining and will generate some income,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we could apply it to different city neighborhoods.”

     Smith found a company interested in buying plastic, but the co-op needs a bailer to compact recyclables such as aluminum, cardboard, paper, and plastic into blocks which can easily be stacked and transported. A new bailer costs as much as $5,000. Used ones sell for $2,500. They’re also considering offering a pickup or concierge service where people could leave their recycling for a curbside service. The collection stream has to remain clean for the program to be effective, according to Smith.

     “We’ve looked for a buyer for glass. There’s a lot of glass from the restaurants and bars in the neighborhood. We found a company in Newark, Ohio, which pays $25 per ton. Unfortunately, that’s not very much money, it costs a lot more to collect and ship. We don’t want to leave a heavy carbon footprint either.”

     The co-op members are using their own personal funds to support the program, but Smith hopes to generate enough income to eventually cover their costs. Finding a storage facility for paper and cardboard has to be solved. They’re looking at a possible site in Tremont.

     “It’s more an act of love,” Smith added. “For this thing to take off, it has to be financially possible. We have to figure that part out.”

     Anyone interested in joining the Clean Garbage Recycling Co-op should contact Deb Smith at

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