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Column: Failure to recycle a matter of inconvenience


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Good habits are hard to break.

I know, it sounds like I got that backward. Many of us have dealt with — or ignored — our own demons of poor eating habits, missing-in-action exercise routines or vices that are far worse.

But good habits? Yes, they’re also hard to break. After 28 days without practicing a good habit, it’s also see-ya-later.

So, 90 days into my new job and new life in Columbus, I have largely gone without recycling. Yes, I’ll still drop an aluminum can into the recycling slot in our company kitchen, but I have gotten out of the habit of recycling at home. Instead of coloring me green, color me bad.

I signed up for, and got used to, curbside recycling when it was initially offered in my first Indiana home of Fishers roughly a decade ago. There was a modest charge for the service, but we didn’t blink an eye. After moving to eastern Ohio in 2009, I was glad to hear the communities there offered it, too.

When you’re a daily newspaper reader, a lot of newsprint will pile up over the period between recycling days. In Fishers and in Dover, Ohio, recycling pickup was every two weeks. My household had a bin for newspapers and cardboard in the garage, and it went from there to the curb on alternate weeks, unless I forgot what week it was, and then had to wait yet another two weeks to recycle.

Besides paper, we recycled water bottles, aluminum beverage cans, plastic juice bottles, rinsed-out milk containers, soup cans, thin plastic bags from the grocery or drug stores. You get the picture. All of these items went out to the curb on recycling day.

In Tuscarawas County (92,500 population), where I lived in Ohio, curbside recycling is the expectation.

In its biggest city, the county seat of New Philadelphia (17,200 population), weekly curbside recycling just marked its two-year anniversary. It had been offered at least twice-monthly there for the past 20 years. In Dover (12,800 population) and Strasburg (2,600 population), curbside recycling is offered every other week. And in three very small towns, curbside recycling is offered monthly.

Tuscarawas is a very rural county, with no city close to the size and dynamics of Columbus (45,000 population). And yet the amount of material recycled there each year is twice that of Bartholomew County (78,000 population).

And why is that?

I think you already know the answer.

The first full year of weekly curbside recycling in New Philadelphia, its tonnage increased 21.1 percent. During that same period at the Columbus/Bartholomew County Recycling Center, the tonnage increased 3.8 percent.

Of course, citizens here must take their items to the city/county recycling center on Mapleton Street or drop them off at one of a handful of other rural or mobile pickup locations throughout the county.

And why don’t more Columbus area people do that?

I’ll take a wild guess that it boils down to time and convenience.

“You try to make it easy to recycle,” explains David Douglas, service director in Dover, Ohio.

The cost of curbside recycling pickup for both Dover and New Philadelphia is built into monthly trash-removal fees. In Dover, that’s $11.59 a month; and in New Philadelphia, it’s $13.25.

Fred Neff, superintendent of general services in New Philadelphia, estimates the cost for curbside recycling alone is less than 10 percent of the city’s monthly fee, or about $1.

With the price of gasoline today, you can’t drive to a central recycling center for less than $1, unless it’s right across the street.

Financial assistance helped New Philadelphia convert to its weekly program, enabling the city to purchase a truck ($123,241) and bins ($35,000), funded entirely by a grant from the regional recycling district. Including $5,000 for marketing, the total grant was for $163,241.

“There are a lot of grants out there,” Neff said.

Additionally, the two Ohio cities get $25 to $35 a ton from their recycling vendor. For Neff’s city, that’s about $10,000 annually.

As a Republic front-page story on Nov. 14 indicated, Columbus has been studying the possibility of offering curbside recycling a good part of this year, and there seems to be a fair amount of support among leaders.

A Columbus City Council committee headed by Frank Miller recommended in July that the city’s most practical approach would be to start with a contractor-operated service for the collection and processing of recyclable items before deciding whether the city should take on all or some of those responsibilities.

Contracting with an outside company initially would save the city between $1.3 million and $2.2 million in start-up costs, although the operational costs would still result in about $250,000 in new annual expenses. Divided among all Columbus households, that would be about $1.50 a month — assuming grants were not available to lighten the taxpayer load.

Recognizing the economy’s impact on this year’s presidential election, and with other financial obligations, I understand Columbus’ hesitation to force any new mandatory fee on its residents. Many of us still remember George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign mantra, “No new taxes, read my lips.”

But $1.50 a month?

In July, The Republic editorialized on the issue and mentioned that with a reputation for an outstanding quality of life, Columbus had fallen behind other communities that have adopted variations of curbside recycling programs.

I’d pay that much to get back into a good habit of recycling. How about you?

Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. You may reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by email at tjekel@therepublic.com.

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