In a year where so much went wrong, the City of Bowling Green’s recycling efforts took a big step forward in 2020. Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter delivered the good news in-person at the monthly city council meeting on Jan. 19.
“Overall recycling was up in 2020 over 2019 by 23%, with 999.76 tons of materials collected curbside,” Tretter said. “The city’s 2020 diversion rate was 38.5% while the national average was 32%.”
The largest reason for the uptick in productivity from the city is because they partnered with Republic Services for their citywide pickup and drop off rather than the Bowling Green Recycling Center.
While the city and recycling center share a name, the city does not own the center as it is managed, “as an independent non-profit by a volunteer management committee,” according to bgohio.org. In stark contrast, Republic Services is the second largest recycling service in America by revenue and was founded in 1998.
The prices at the Bowling Green Recycling Center rose quickly, so they encouraged the city to look for a bid from a larger company. Republic was the sole bidder, giving the city a month to replan their recycling strategy before implementation.
Now the materials being recycled are moved from Bowling Green to Toledo before being moved to Oberlin. Other localities that use Republic include Perrysburg, Sylvania and Toledo.
“They are a much larger processor, so they are able to take a wider range of materials,” Bowling Green Sustainability Coordinator Amanda Gamby said.
She said the new recycling center is as much as five times bigger with all of its “bells and whistles.” The curbside trucks are also equipped with cameras.
Those bells and whistles have expanded the list of things accepted that the local center could not, including glass, wax and books.
For the Bowling Green Recycling Center, it is now predominantly residents dropping off materials. The center is located at 1040 N. College Drive, next to the public works garage.
“Support will need to come from the city or county,” Ken Reiman, chair of the recycling center, said. “We are operating on cash reserves right now but we will need assistance.”
Recycling has changed considerably since newspapers have become less mainstream. Reiman talked about how newspapers were the reason for curbside recyclings beginning. In California, racks were put on trash trucks to collect the papers because they could be recycled for money.
While the Bowling Green Recycling Center used to ship a load of newspapers a week, they shipped three loads in total last year. This is a double-edge sword because it is contributing to a reduction of materials but also hurts the recycling centers’ operations.
Among recyclable items, glass is one of the heaviest. Being able to accept glass was a drastic part of how the city was able to divert 38.5% of its home waste from landfills. At the Bowling Green Recycling Center, when glass gets broken down it complicates the process but Republic has the ability to better handle glass.
The city's newest initiative for 2021 is a food waste compost site, in partnership with GoZERO. This site will be a drop-off with garbage-like containers for the compost. The company ensures that they have not had issues such as smell or rodents doing this in other cities. Once every two weeks the containers will be picked up, emptied, cleaned and sanitized before being put back. The city is experimenting with this program as a six month pilot.
“The launch of this composting program will include the distribution of 5-gallon composting containers for the first 250 residents who request one,” Tretter said at the council meeting. This is for homes to collect their food waste before bringing it to the drop off. Gamby informed me that the number of containers the city has was recently upgraded to 350 for residents.
One reason educating citizens is so important for Gamby is because of the amount of turnover in the homes every year. By the time students, who rent houses and apartments yearly, are informed how to go about recycling it may be time for them to move out. For this reason, Gamby works hard to keep more informed.
“I have eyes on the rest of Ohio,” Gamby said. “We will be the first city in Wood Country with the food waste system. We are trying to be progressive and we can get our diversion rate even higher.”
The city hopes to carry the uptick in recycling and waste diversion into the new year and beyond. Gamby said she is big on educating citizens because they learn that it is not that people do not want to recycle, but rather that people do not know the correct way to recycle. She works on many brochures and is active on social media in attempts to promote recycling efforts and reach out to people. The city of Bowling Green’s recycling efforts shined bright in a dark year.