Oxford leads local cities, townships in recycling efforts

Oxford is Butler County’s champion in household recycling with a rate that’s double most other areas of the county.

The Butler County Recycling and Solid Waste District reported 18.4 percent of Oxford’s residential trash last year avoided going to the landfill because it was recycled. The 1,049 tons that households recycled represents 93.9 pounds per person in the city whose 2016 population was estimated at 22,341.

Meanwhile, Ross Township, which recently teamed up with two much larger communities to contract with Rumpke Waste & Recycling — Hamilton County’s Colerain and Springfield townships — saw its recycling rate jump dramatically last year.

Ross Township’s household recycling rate went from 8.5 percent in 2015 to 14.9 percent last year, drawing praise from Anne Fiehrer Flaig, director of the county’s recycling and solid waste district. Suddenly, Ross has the county’s second best recycling performance.

Ross Township competitively bid service trash-and-recycling collections for all its households, rather than homeowners signing up individually for trash and recycling collection. To get better rates for residents, Ross teamed with the much larger townships make its customer base more enticing.

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“They were able to present a bid that presented a lot of incentive for the waste community to submit a very competitive bid,” Fiehrer Flaig said. “By joining their more rural, agricultural and lesser-populated township with these power townships, all the residents in Ross now have curbside recycling, and they lowered their bills.”

The three-township alliance allowed many homeowners to realize rate decreases of 30 percent or more, said township Administrator Bob Bass. Unlike prior arrangements, recycling now is included in the trash bill.

With no more fees for recycling, “I think a lot of people have taken that under their wing and they’ve decided to start recycling,” Bass said.

“They were very innovative in this model, and Hamilton County and Butler County helped broker the bidding process,” Fiehrer Flaig said. “I’d like to potentially enlist some of our other townships in doing something like this.”

Mixed bag across the county

Several factors help communities like Oxford be the leader, according to research, Fiehrer Flaig said: “One of them is high educational attainment level. Another is household income, and then home value.”

Fast-growing, affluent townships of Liberty (13.0 percent) and West Chester (10.9 percent) followed Ross Township in largest rates of household trash being recycled.

Among the cities, Fairfield (13.9 percent) followed Oxford; with Monroe (11.7 percent); Hamilton (10.2 percent); Trenton (8.2 percent); and Middletown (6.4 percent) last.

The last-ranking township was Lemon, with a rate of 0.45 percent.

Miami University students are part of the reason Oxford’s rate is so high, says that city’s environmental specialist, Dave Treleaven: “The students that are coming to Miami, they’ve been around recycling all their life, so they’ve already got a pretty good education on it before they come here.”

The rest of Oxford also is well-educated. But during Miami’s school year, recycling percentages in Oxford are a bit higher than in the summer, when most students are gone.

Oxford during the 1990s had a program where households were limited to two containers per week, with people having to buy stickers to attach to additional trash. Back then, Oxford’s recycling percentages were up around 20 percent, but the extra costs for additional items, “we had a lot of illegal dumping” and litter, Treleaven said.

In Hamilton, which is about mid-range among communities in recycling, the city saw an uptick in percentages from 7.6-7.7 percent in 2010 and 2011 to just above 10 percent each year since 2013.

City Public Works Director Rich Engle and Fiehrer Flaig credit that gain to Hamilton’s delivery of 35-gallon, 65-gallon or 96-gallon recycling containers to all residents.

Hamilton was “one of the first communities to roll that out, together with the lidded and wheeled trash carts, trying to improve the overall aesthetic, as well as a standard of getting people to put trash in a lidded container,” Fiehrer Flaig said.

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Engle said the city is not satisfied with its current recycling percentage. The city has been discussing ways to improve it, both with Rumpke and the solid waste district, he said, adding: “We have not decided on a specific program to implement. I would anticipate a decision sometime later this year.”

Why recycle?

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources “estimated, back in 2004, that about 69 percent of everything that we consume and bring into our homes is recyclable,” Fiehrer Flaig said. “And I continue to believe that that’s true.”

“It seems to me that in order to change the paradigm for recycling, we have to think of these materials as something that we’re stewards of,” she said. “We have them in our hands for a short time. What do we do with them when we’re done with our short-term use of them? Do we put them in a landfill, where they sit, or do we put them into the economy”

Recycled materials can support new facets of the economy, she said. But when they enter landfills, they lose all value.

Some facts about recycling from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Recycling 15 glass bottles saves enough energy to power a laptop for 31.3 hours, or run air conditioning for an hour.
  • 20 recycled soda cans can be made with the energy needed to manufacture one can.
  • Recycled paper creates 74 percent less air pollution and 35 less water pollution.
  • The more people recycle, the move viable recycling becomes as a business, theoretically lowering costs of disposing of trash, and also the less need for more landfills.

How does Butler County compare?

While Butler County’s solid waste district has calculations to the 100th of a percentage point of the waste-stream reductions created by recycling, one of the agencies it reports to under state law, the Ohio EPA, has not tracked that information from its counterparts across the state, according to agency spokesman James Lee.

The agency provided information about the tons of items recycled by households and companies, categorized by recyclable material, but it does not have information about percentages removed from landfills, Lee said.

Butler County makes available the recycling percentages for each community as a way to encourage competition among them to increase recycling rates.

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How does this county compare against all Ohio’s other solid-waste districts?

“That is not something that we have,” Lee said. “You’d need to contact the solid-waste districts themselves.”

Fiehrer Flaig has one assistant, trying to spread the message in a county of more than 376,000 residents. Her office in 2013 had four on staff.

“We are able to satisfy the mandates at the state level, and we have been singled out for having exemplary programming in some of our outreach areas,” Fiehrer Flaig said. “But I just feel like we have been in a retrenching kind of position, staffing, funding-wise.”

“But we do a remarkable job, at the same time, with the resources that we have,” she said.

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