By DENISE GRANT
Lorain County’s recycling program, including the recycling of glass bottles, is a model for Ohio, according to the state Environmental Protection Agency.
The key is the public’s determination to recycle in the first place, said Keith Bailey, director of the Lorain County Solid Waste District, who has about 35 years in recycling.
“That’s really where the rubber hits the road,” Bailey said. “If the public is not willing to fund that project, then the political people and the people in charge must determine how to fund it, and fund it adequately.
“There is a place for both the private and the public sector” in recycling, he said.
In Hancock County, the recycling program’s flagship, Litter Landing, is operating at a $300,000 annual deficit. It has an “ancient baler” for scrap cardboard and plastic; works with a slow, aging glass crusher; and annually shipped about 200 tons of clear and brown glass about 300 miles to Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.
Mixed glass rode for free because it has no value.
Litter Landing no longer accepts glass, and some say Hancock County’s recycling program is in jeopardy.
With a population of about 300,000, nearly four times that of Hancock County, Lorain County processed 5,234 tons of household and commercial glass in 2014.
Lorain County’s solid waste management plan is more than simply gathering used stuff in a bin for shipment elsewhere, according to Bailey. He said a good plan is the best place to start making changes.
“Planning is such a key component,” he said. “It takes a lot of study and a lot of work to create a solid waste management plan that works.”
Once the recycling plan is set, Bailey said, then it becomes a question of whether the public will fund it.
“Also, there is this thought process that we are getting rich selling recyclables. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Much of what we recycle today must be subsidized,” Bailey said.
Most of Lorain County’s recycling is done with portable roll-off bins, with the material handled by private companies. The county handles all hazardous waste, something the private sector has been reluctant to do.
“So, that’s something that we do, and that’s part of our solid waste plan,” Bailey said.
As for glass, Bailey said recycling it is a problem for all of northern Ohio.
“We don’t have a glass processor like they do down south,” he said.
Lorain County officials have been working with the EPA to establish a major glass processor, like Rumpke Consolidated Companies of Dayton, closer to home.
“We would be willing to house it, host it, or provide the real estate for it,” he said.
At Litter Landing, sales of recyclables are expected to be about $260,000 this year, but expenses likely will top $500,000 for the second year in a row.
Fees collected by the Hancock County Landfill are used to offset recycling losses.
In June, signs went up at the recycling center at 1720 E. Sandusky St., announcing that glass collections would stop July 1. The announcement prompted a public outcry, but Director Mike Schroeder stands by the decision.
He said glass is difficult to process and costs labor. A tractor-trailer load of clean brown or clear glass is only worth about $200 at CAP Glass in Pennsylvania.
Litter Landing’s “ancient” baler would cost about $150,000 to replace.
Should it break down beyond repair, “that could be ‘the (final) straw,'” Schroeder said.
“We’re hoping to pick up a corporate donor that would be interested in providing us with another baler,” Schroeder said.
Some help may come from the state EPA’s Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention.
State EPA officials, along with Bailey, are expected to visit Litter Landing next week to offer advice on “efficiencies, equipment, materials and even funding,” according to James Lee, agency spokesman.
They are also expected to make a recommendation on glass recycling.
In a July meeting with the Hancock County commissioners, EPA officials Marie Barnett, Ernie Stall and Chet Chaney discussed not only resuming glass recycling, but increasing it to include bottles from bars and restaurants.
They said Rumpke of Dayton is in the market for recycled glass and has a depot in Defiance County. Rumpke is one of the nation’s largest privately-owned residential and commercial waste recyclers. It can process 80,000 tons of glass per year, which is sold to manufacturers of glass containers and insulation.
The company could provide a ready market for Hancock County’s glass and reduce handling concerns, Schroeder said.
He said Litter Landing’s glass crusher is old and works slowly. And, Schroeder said glass tends to have a lot of contaminants, like candle wax, metal caps and ceramics.
Shipping glass to Rumpke would eliminate the need to crush it, Schroeder said. The company uses an optic sensor to sort glass by color, which requires glass pieces large enough for sensors to read.
Although Litter Landing is not accepting glass, Schroeder said no other cuts are planned in the recycling services offered.
“We’re just trying to keep our heads above water,” he said.
County Commissioner Phillip Riegle said officials are willing to work with the EPA to improve Litter Landing.
“Our plan is to listen and see if there are things that can make it work better,” Riegle said.
“Litter Landing has always lost money, but if we’re only losing about $100,000 per year, we can cover that as a service to the public. But now, when we’re on track to lose more than $300,000, that’s obviously not sustainable,” Riegle said.
In 2014, Litter Landing sold $268,930 in recyclables, but operating expenses totaled $436,930.
In 2015, the deficit nearly doubled. Last year, sales dropped to $261,946, and operating expenses climbed to $561,946.
That’s a fraction of Lorain County’s operating budget of $2.4 million for this year. Its hazardous waste collection center employs 14 to 17 part-time, temporary and intermittent employees, who work 14 to 20 hours per week.
Higher commodity prices for recyclables would help across the board, officials said, even as staffing costs increase.
Yearly salaries hit a high at Litter Landing in 2015, topping out at $315,169, plus $122,295 in worker benefits, officials said.
This year, at least one full-time position was reduced to part time, and overtime was eliminated. Salary costs will drop to about $264,000 this year, but benefits are expected to be higher, about $124,539.
Litter Landing employs nine full-time and three part-time workers, and also gets about 240 free man-hours of labor each week from people ordered to do community service by Hancock County’s courts.
Still, Schroeder said the staffing is “bare bones.”
Litter Landing is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Utilities at the center cost about $65,000 per year, and about $25,000 each year is spent on fuel. Supplies cost about $53,000 a year.
“Our operation is probably a lot different than any other,” Riegle said. “We use a lot of workers that are under a court order to perform community service, so they are not well trained.
“We use it, but it keeps us in this mode. Our whole operation is juvenile. It really hasn’t grown up into a more sophisticated operation.”
Schroeder said other frustrating and costly factors are public abuse of Litter Landing and of drop-off bins located throughout the county.
“Sometimes, I think people just pull up and throw whatever they have in the trunk out with their recyclables,” Schroeder said.
Some of the more unpleasant finds have included household trash, used motor oil, pet waste and cat litter, dirty diapers and human medical waste.
“It can ruin all the material in bins, and we end up just throwing everything away. Who wants to sort through that stuff?” he said.
“Of course, we still have the time invested baling it and hauling it to the landfill.”
Other common non-recyclables that end up at the recycling center include Styrofoam; black plastic, including plant containers; plastic bags and barrels, phone books, shrink wrap, bubble wrap, ceramics, plastic-lined pet food bags, and batteries.
“People who are dropping off this stuff may believe they are recycling, but it’s really hurting our efforts,” he said.
In remote areas, thieves raid drop-off bins and take all the aluminum cans.
Hancock County has a five-year solid waste management plan, which details the county’s recycling goals. The plan was approved by the EPA in April 2014, with new planning set to begin in 2018.
Whatever the answer, Bill Recker, a former county commissioner, and chairman of the Hancock County Solid Waste Management District, said raising fees at the landfill to offset losses in recycling would be risky.
Even charging a few more cents on the ton could be enough to send trash haulers looking for a better deal, he said, and jeopardize the landfill’s operation.
Recker favors supporting private-sector recyclers in the future, much like Lorain County is doing.
Bailey did offer a caution about private-sector haulers.
“…The private sector sometimes cheats and gets caught cheating, landfilling materials the public has paid to recycle,” Bailey said. “I believe one of the most important roles of a (solid waste) district is to make sure everyone is doing the right thing. It goes back to the basics in government taught to me by my grandfather, Eldon Beers of Marion County. He taught me truth and transparency in government begets you trust.”
Send an E-mail to Denise Grant
By DENISE GRANT