MEDINA — A recycling proposal from the Medina County Solid Waste District is based on the concept of spending money to make money.
The district has proposed giving area school districts $1 per student, which amounts to about $28,000, if they agree to not use an out-of-county recycler. That way, the county’s Central Processing Facility in Westfield Township doesn’t lose an estimated $300,000 in revenue from recyclables annually.
County commissioners ultimately will be the ones to approve any agreement.
In the meantime, all the green Paper Retriever bins owned by private recycler Abitibi Bowater have been removed from local schools at superintendents’ requests.
“We were saddened to remove our bins from the Medina County schools,” said Denise Piotrowski, manager of Abitibi’s Cleveland office. “Our partnership with those schools showed great effort from the staff, faculty and the students to get the community involved in recycling to reap the rewards of our work.”
Abitibi had maintained bins to collect paper recyclables in Medina County for six years. Last year, the company reported it collected about 2,300 tons of newspaper in the county and paid about $30,000 in rewards to host sites in exchange for collecting the paper.
All the hosts of Abitibi bins are nonprofits, such as schools, and can use the money for projects of their choosing. She said there are still about 100 bins in Medina County at private schools, churches and other nonprofits.
However, county officials say the recycling program violates the Solid Waste District’s policy. Paper and other recyclables already are removed from trash at the Central Processing Facility.
When the facility was built in 1993, the Solid Waste District instituted a policy of flow control, which means all the trash and recyclables that originate in the county must be sent to the facility. That way, the Solid Waste District and CPF’s operator are paid for the cost of processing recyclables and for selling them to be recycled.
According to projections from the Solid Waste District, the county lost about $127,000 last year and the CPF’s operator, Envision Waste Services , lost about $178,000 from paper collected by Abitibi that was not processed by the CPF.
“If there are no recyclables in the trash and we allow people to come into the county against our solid waste plan, we are making a big mistake,” said Bill Strazinsky, coordinator of the Solid Waste District. “I then have to tell the EPA why I’m letting people come into the county.”
The county hasn’t filed a lawsuit against Abitibi. Instead, it’s going to the organizations that host the bins to request they stop using them.
“We’re getting compliance without going to court. That’s the incentive here,” said Commissioner Steve Hambley, who is the liaison for the county Sanitary Engineer’s Office, which oversees the Solid Waste District.
The first step involves setting up an education and grant program for schools. Eventually, the Solid Waste District will begin to reach out to other organizations that host bins and ask them not to do so anymore.
First, the Solid Waste District is establishing a recycling curriculum for the county’s schools.
“Part of our problem has always been we have the most unique recycling program in the state, bar none,” Strazinsky said.
He said many county residents don’t understand their trash is automatically sorted, and that will change over time by teaching children about recycling at the CPF.
In addition, the Solid Waste District has proposed giving $1-per-student grants. The school districts would be able to use the money for whatever programming they want, just as they could with the Abitibi grant.
To be eligible to receive the money, the schools can’t have Abitibi bins and must implement the education program.
County Sanitary Engineer Jim Troike said Envision has offered to pay half the grant, or about $14,000. He said it would start as a one-time grant but could continue if it proves successful.
A letter detailing the proposal went out to superintendents earlier this summer. However, the sanitary engineer’s office did not get official approval from commissioners beforehand.
Commissioner Pat Geissman said she was surprised by the offer. She said it may not be the best economic decision, since the sanitary engineer’s office took out a $1.2 million loan to upgrade CPF equipment earlier this year. In addition, the facility plans to increase the tipping fee charged to trash haulers in order to help pay off the loan.
“I don’t know if this was thought out really well,” she said. “I just think this is the wrong way to approach this. I’m sure there are other options.”
She suggested the county could set up recycling programs to help the schools collect recyclables and bring them to the CPF.
Troike sent a memo to commissioners last week that detailed the costs of such a program. Placing receptacles for the paper would cost $31,000 or $96,000, depending on the kind of receptacle. In addition, operating it would cost between $1,800 and $3,750 a month.
On top of that, the county and Envision would not receive a tipping fee, which they do when trash haulers bring in waste.
Commissioner Sharon Ray said the board would consider the program and soon decide whether to approve it.
Buckeye Superintendent Dennis Honkala said he’s most excited about the education program.
“Regardless of the money that we get or don’t get, the fact that they’re willing to work on a curriculum for our kids is priceless,” he said.
He said it’s important that people know how recycling works in the county.
“Medina County needs to stick their chest out and say, ‘We’re a nationally known recycling county.’ ” He said money that used to come in from the Paper Retrievers helped fund some student organizations and their projects, like a middleschool student recycling group. “We’ll make sure those students’ opportunities to promote recycling continue,” he said.
Medina Superintendent Randy Stepp said the money from Abitibi also went to student projects in his district. He said the grant from the county will cover the Abitibi money that would have gone to those groups.
However, he said the Abitibi bins served as a tool for teaching students about recycling.
“The only drawback that I can see is that the kids aren’t going to have a bin outside their school to have the handson experience,” he said. However, he said he appreciates the educational initiatives from the county.
“I think it can work. I think the county is trying to work through it and figure out some options,” he said. “In the end, I’man advocate 100 percent for keeping as much money in the county as we possibly can.”
Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.