More trash talk as task force makes recommendations

“Change is coming to the way we process our refuse, whether we like it or not,” we wrote in “Trash talk” (Heights Observer, December 2018). Now, the time for change has arrived. Tree lawns bedecked with plastic trash and recycling bags will soon be a thing of the past.

In September, Cleveland Heights’ recycling contract with Rumpke Waste and Recycling is up for renewal. At that point, absent some interim agreement, Rumpke will no longer take the recyclables our city’s drivers transport in those familiar blue bags. Instead, our jars, cans, plastic, cardboard and paper will have to be transported loose from our city’s transfer station on Superior Road to Rumpke’s recycling facility in Shiloh.

To meet that requirement, the city must replace its fleet of decrepit trucks with automated vehicles, equipped with arms to lift and empty wheeled carts at curbside. Our only other option would be to stop recycling, which is unacceptable.

That is one conclusion of the Refuse and Recycling Task Force (RRTF), which recently presented its findings to Cleveland Heights City Council.

Comprising 10 residents and three city staff members, RRTF did an impressive job. Its members took field trips; brought in experts and officials from other communities; received residents’ comments; and studied in depth the labor, equipment, facilities and finances required to take away the things we discard.

RRTF’s final presentation points out that, in addition to enabling us to continue recycling, automation will make trash pickup faster and more efficient, reduce injuries to workers, and eliminate animal-ravaged plastic bags and wind-blown garbage. While it will require only one instead of two operators per truck, staff can be reduced through attrition rather than layoffs.

According to the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, communities that automated have seen a 77-percent increase in recyclables collected, and a reduction in workers’ compensation costs.

RRTF’s second major recommendation is that the city continue to provide refuse and recycling services in-house, rather than outsourcing them.

Using figures from the solid waste district, RRTF determined that the cost of public and private trash collection, excluding one-time automation expenses, would be comparable. The city provides a wider range of services than private companies do, including regular bulk and yard-waste pickup, and is more accountable to residents for the quality of those services.

Owning its own transfer station means Cleveland Heights need not pay to use one in another community. In use before current EPA regulations were adopted, this facility has been grandfathered in. If services were privatized, it would be closed, and most likely could not be re-opened later. A functioning transfer station, according to City Manager Tanisha Briley, allows the city to “control our own destiny.”

Trucks and wheeled carts for residents’ use will cost an estimated $4.9 million. Grants may cover the acquisition of carts, but the city will have to borrow the rest. Paying off that debt will require raising the monthly per-household fee, currently $11.50, probably to $14.50. That would place us squarely in the middle among cities in Cuyahoga County. Outsourcing would require this increase as well. The city has hired a consultant to further study projected costs and fees.

We think trash and recycling collection is an essential municipal service, and should remain in public hands. The city’s aging transfer station needs some investment to keep it operating safely and effectively; we are glad that this was accounted for in the task force report.

We hope to see residents remain informed and engaged as Cleveland Heights moves with all deliberate speed to invest in a sustainable future for us all.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 4:11 PM, 04.02.2020