Portage County unveils new recycling plan, Kent first to commit

Story by Katie Nix

Audio by Rachel Smeaton

The City of Kent has committed to continuing its relationship with the Portage County Solid Waste Management District and utilizing the organization’s new recycling plan.

“The city’s history of partnership with the county was an important factor in renewing our commitment with the Portage County Solid Waste Management District,” Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said. “The City of Kent has a proud environmental heritage and Kent was one of the first communities in Ohio to start recycling back in the 1970s. In those early years private recycling companies didn’t exist but Portage County stepped up to be the City’s recycling partner and that partnership has endured for decades.

Containers such as these ones would replace the two small bins Portage County currently uses to recycle.
Containers such as these ones are the future of Portage County’s recycling plan.

“Working together the City and the County were able to take recycling mainstream building a successful collection and processing network which now supports recycling all over the region.”

Ruller recommended the continuation of the partnership at the March 4 City Council meeting and it was supported 7-0 by the council.

Kent is the first community in Portage County to commit to the new plan, which was approved by the director of the Ohio EPA on Feb. 20.

One major change

While the county is debuting a new plan, there is only one major change in comparison to the old one, Portage County Solid Waste Management District Head of Planning Dawn McIntyre said.

“The biggest change is from dual-stream to single-stream,” McIntyre said.

She explains the difference here:

McIntyre said the change is being made because many other districts in the state are doing the same and that recycling increases by about 30 percent when it is single-streamed.

“The county’s asking for a commitment – whether you’re staying or whether you’re going cause to convert to single stream we need new equipment,” McIntyre said. “You need new truck, you need new containers, you need new decals, you need a whole new system so in order for us to justify the spending of that we need to know whether you’re staying or whether you’re going so right now is a critical period.”

Trucks like this one would need to be replaced under the new recycling plan.
Trucks like this one would need to be replaced under the new recycling plan.

However, this change only affects residents in Portage County. Kent’s Bar 145 general manager Jemar Johnson said city’s bars and restaurants only recycle paper products and so single-streaming is not something that would affect them.

This did not stop some of the county’s communities from pushing back.

Four years late

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Linda Oros said Portage County was due to update their recycling plan in 2011 but some of the communities made it impossible.

“[Portage County] failed to obtain ratification from the cities and townships which is part of the requirements for this process,” Oros said. “They need to get 75 percent of the communities to approve and they got 67 percent so they were close but they didn’t get everyone to approve.”

Oros said the communities who did not ratify the new plan did so because they did not want to feel forced into using the district’s plan when they could find someone to do it cheaper.

McIntyre explains the situation below:

However, McIntyre said privatizing the recycling would cost Portage County 31 jobs.

Portage County Solid Waste Management District Head of Planning Dawn McIntyre
Portage County Solid Waste Management District Head of Planning Dawn McIntyre

“There is no other recycling company that does curbside in Portage County so in my eyes and in my opinion you would be taking a $1.1 million payroll out of Portage County and giving it to a surrounding county,” McIntyre said. “Why would you do that?”

McIntyre said once the county failed to get ratification for the new plan, it was turned over to the Ohio EPA because “at that point, you’re never going to reach a compromise.”

EPA steps in

Oros said Portage County began the process to update their plan as the state mandates but the lack of ratification made it so the Ohio EPA had to step in.

She explains the process here:

“It’s a local process so if they don’t do it, we have enforcement to do it but until it gets to that point it doesn’t affect us,” Oros said.

Oros said the recycling districts have to update their plans every five years and the plans have to meet certain state goals.

“They have to follow a format that we have available and they have to note how they will meet state goals in the plan so they need to be in compliance with the state plan,” she said. “We write a plan for the entire state that says this is where we want solid waste managements districts to get to but they are goals – they are not requirements but the idea is to make an attempt to get there.”

She also said she feels as though Portage County is now on its way to meeting those goals as they are converting to single-stream, like many other districts.