Reduce Reuse Refocus: Rural Ohio's Complicated Relationship With Recycling

Feb 19, 2020

Recycling in Ohio’s rural communities is all about choice and effort. If curbside is available, it’s expensive, leading many people to rely on dropoff centers. But some areas just want to do it their way, which can be a challenge.


Geauga County's relationship with recycling can best be described as complicated.

For resident Heidi Baumgart, it’s a labor of love. In the village of South Russell, just over the county line near Chargin Falls, she loaded her car with plastic bottles, cans and cardboard. Baumgart said she has to haul all of her recycling to the nearby drop-off center since the trash pick-up company discontinued the service. 

“Sometimes, it’s maybe 15-20 minutes to go from the kitchen to the garage to the car to the recycling to center, to empty the recycling center, as far as one direction,” Baumgart said.

 

'It's the bad apples (who) literally closed the door.'

Drop-off centers
There are 13 drop-off centers in Geagua County, and it’s the main way residents recycle. Curbside either isn’t offered or homeowners have to pay extra for it in their individual contract they have with a trash hauling company, like Waste Management.

In Bainbridge Township, with a population of 15,000, its recycling center runs pretty much like clockwork with two operations: a pure paper collection in agreement with River Valley Paper, which they get paid for, and there are other bins that belong to the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District for general recyclables.

There are about 20 large containers for plastics and paper.

Jim Stanek, the Bainbridge Township service director, said the key is monitoring. Signs are posted, including a video board, that explain what can and can’t be recycled.

 

Bainbridge Township's monitoring system for its drop-off recycling center.
Credit AMANDA RABINOWITZ

“I would have never thought in a million years that people would put that stuff in their cars and bring it here, and they do. And they’re diligent about it. And not only diligent about what they’re bringing but they keep an eye on each other,” Stanek said. “And if they see someone breaking the rules, they’ll say something to them.”

Most importantly, the township invested in a camera system that Stanek can monitor from his desk, and if he spots someone dumping trash, he can call the cops.

“So I can see them coming in, I can see them going out. I can zoom on (the monitor) if I had to grab a plate or if I really wanted to see what someone was doing,” Stanek said.

The bad apples
But not all of these drop-off centers run this smoothly. About 30 minutes north, Munson Township officials got fed up with people dumping everything from fish tanks to televisions to hula hoops. So, Trustee Jim McCaskey said they shut it down last year.

“There’s 80% of the people that want to recycle. And it’s the bad apples (who) literally closed the door,” McCaskey said. "We’re not giving up on recycling, but we’re doing it a different way.”

McCaskey said the trustees' solution was to ask the county engineer’s office nearby to add more recycling containers. It’s in a lighted area with more traffic so it can be better monitored.

'Maybe I want to pay more because I like that company better.'

Chardon's switch to a single hauler
Still, there’s a constant debate over curbside recycling in rural communities. It’s costly, and sometimes companies don’t want to make the trip when there’s so few people spread out.

But in Chardon, city council voted last year to go with a single trash hauler. That means the city of about 5,000 is now served by Waste Management, which won the lowest bid among five companies. So instead of each customer getting their own contract, everyone is under the same contract and everyone gets a recycling bin. Community Development Administrator Steve Yaney said it’s saving everyone money.

 

Gas cans and other trash sitting next to bins at the Munson Township recycling center, which was shut down in 2019.
Credit Munson Township

“Going from $40 to $50 a month down to $16, that’s real dollars we’re talking about. How many times in 2020 are you hearing you’re getting more service, for less money? And it really has an impact, long term,” Yaney said.

Yaney said in the first six months, Waste Management collected 300,000 pounds of recyclables. 

But Chardon’s switch to a single hauler for curbside came with a fair share of backlash.

A personal issue about choice
Recycling is deeply personal to rural communities. Skip Claypool, a trustee in Chester Township — otherwise known as Chesterland by locals — is a recycling advocate and spent time on the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste District board. He uses both the nearby recycling drop-off center and pays his trash hauler extra for curbside. And he likes it that way.

'I think in Geauga County we've done a nice job of giving people options.'

“It’s a little tyrannical. ‘I’m gonna tell you who your hauler is going to be.’ I bought five acres in an area where I don’t have a lot of zoning, because I want to be free to use my property in the way that I want to use my property. And maybe I’ll pay more. Maybe I want to pay more because I like that company better,” Claypool said. 

Still, Chardon’s way of recycling is appealing to many townships. McCaskey in Munson Township hopes to follow suit.

“There’s 5,000 people who just started recycling, whether they want to or not. And you can educate people so when they put their white lawn chair in the recycle bin, Waste Management can put a sticker on it that says, ‘This doesn’t recycle.’”

It’s a debate that will likely continue for years to come in the rural parts of the state. But for many people here, like Claypool, they want choices.

“Of the people that I know, and that’s quite a few people, almost 100% recycle. If people are educated, they wanna do the right thing if you give them the options they will do the right thing. And I think in Geauga County we’ve done a nice job of giving people options,” Claypool said. 

Residents in Geauga County are excited about plans for a new, more than $1 million household hazardous waste collection facility that the Solid Waste District is expected to build near Munson Township this year, adding yet another option for people in these rural communities to recycle the way they want.