Curbside recycling in the city of Tiffin is stalled.
City Council, by a 4-3 vote, rejected an ordinance Monday night that would have cleared the way for city administration to solicit bids for a single hauler and curbside recycler.
The proposal wasn't actually to switch to a single hauler, but to see what it would cost the city to establish curbside recycling.
The vote is yet another setback in a long, complicated saga that illustrates how environmental issues can become entangled in small-town politics and economics.
According to the 2010 census, Tiffin has the largest population of any political subdivision in the three-county Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca Solid Waste District. The list of townships, villages, communities, institutions and other public and nonprofit sites in Seneca County that recycle is impressive. Within Tiffin, large recyclers include Heidelberg and Tiffin universities.
But not the city of Tiffin itself.
The city does, however, have recycling ordinances on the books dating back to 1993 and, at one point, had a curbside recycling program. While the details of what happened to the program have faded with time, the cost of running it appears to have played a big role.
The dirty little secret about recycling is that there is no money in picking up and processing recycled material. In fact, it costs to recycle on the front end. The money is on the back end, where packaged paper, metal, glass and plastic is sold to re-processors. Getting to that point, however, requires economies of scale and a way to sort what is collected.
In the past, recyclables had to be sorted for processing. The solid waste district maintains a source-separated recycling service. This is changing, as solid waste and recycling companies switch to single-stream recycling and build plants to separate and process material.
For a regional, single-stream hauler and recycling company it makes sense. For a local hauler, the cost is prohibitive.
Communities such as Tiffin have to decide, among other things, whether to sort or not to sort, and the implications of both in a city served by multiple trash haulers.
First, however, there has to be a commitment to recycle.
There is one remnant of a source-separated effort to recycle still in Tiffin. A local trash hauler recently set up a recycling center, but announced last fall it was closing because people weren't using it. At the request of the city, Karl's Hauling agreed to keep the center open twice a week until the city could find a long-term solution to recycling.
Community interest in recycling
If you have any doubts about community interest in recycling, drive by one of two Clinton Township recycling stations at Fire Station No. 2 on the corner of SR 100 and US 224 on a Monday morning.
The drop-off point, one of 18 Seneca County township and village recycling drop-off stations established through the "Aim to be Green" single-stream recycling program sponsored by the solid waste district, started with four Dumpster-sized recycling containers in 2012. They're now up to 11, all of which are emptied Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Over a typical weekend, the solid waste district says area residents (who can't all be coming from Clinton Township) deposit some 7,000 pounds of recycling in the containers. That's 3.5 tons of material from one drop-off point during one pickup that gets recycled, rather than hauled down the road to the landfill, which we all pay for.
Sadly, this one drop-off point may become a victim of its own success. So much recycled material is being dropped off that officials say it's become overwhelming and they may have to close the station because of logistical, space and safety concerns.
Either way, we pay for our trash to be hauled away. Whether to a landfill or a recycling center, we pay for it to get there, and the more that gets recycled, the less that winds up at the landfill. It's also much better for the environment.
Granted, there are benefits and drawbacks to recycling in a city such as Tiffin. While wear and tear on the roads would be less with one hauler, there no longer would be competition and the city would need to enforce whatever ordinances exist.
At Monday night's city council meeting, Larry Lundy, founder and general manager of GIBS Sanitation Service in Fostoria, was reported to have spoken against the ordinance City Council ended up voting down, saying education was more important in promoting recycling than eliminating choice and taking business away from local haulers.
It may not be as much the people of the city of Tiffin who need to be educated about recycling as it is City Council itself. Residents seem to get it. As stewards of a municipality that prides itself as being an education community, Council could learn a lot from looking at how neighboring communities have managed to institute their programs and join.
TU instituted single-stream recycling last spring as part of its efforts to become greener and cleaner.
The Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca County Solid Waste District maintains statistics on the "Aim to be Green" single-stream recycling program, which can be found here:
Jan Samoriski is a communications professor at Tiffin University and chairman of the university's Green Committee.