According to a data revealed via The Plain Dealer; from the moment the City Council decided to lift the moratorium on fining their residents for recycling violations and curbside garbage three months ago, a total of 3,132 citations have been issued by the service department for about $387,000 in fines.
This data reveals that only about 14% of those cited have bothered to pay their fines since August 1 when the moratorium was lifted. The city has only been able to collect a total of $53,580.
However, according to Obie Shelton, one of the spokesperson from the office of the Cleveland Clerk of Courts, where these fines are collected, the city’s ordinance in charge of these violations has a loophole.
The rules provide that a fine of $100 be increased by $20 20 days after the delinquency, and it rises by $40 if unpaid after yet another20 days, making a total of $160 in fines. But according to Shelton, after that, “There is no provision in the ordinance for collections.”
He also stated that, garbage citations are actually civil cases, which is why they’re unenforceable unlike moving violations and delinquent parking tickets.
According to Kevin Kelley, City Council President, though there’s something to be said about the fine collection procedure, his major concern for now is how to enforce compliance of the city’s recycling and waste rules.
Kelley also stated that “This program wasn’t intended to be punitive, and the goal wasn’t to make money. The goal was [for residents] to set out the proper amount of garbage, and to provide a clean, safe and healthy neighborhood.”
“We didn’t want to be put in the position of placing liens on people’s homes for what amounts to a trash ticket,” stated Kelley. “Are we going to be aggressive? No. But if you did get fined you should pay.”
The law was actually designed to make sure the recyclables and household garbage are disposed in the right containers, so as to reduce labor and cost of disposal thereby saving money.
According to the ordinance “To achieve goals of the program, it is necessary that all citizens use the (correct) container … and avoid all mixing of recyclable materials and regular household waste.”
Most of the residents barely pay any attention to the recycling guidelines. Residents of Cleveland recycled 13% of their yard waste and garbage last year, which amounts to about 24,000 tons. And according to the annual report from the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, the remaining waste which amounts to about 162,000 tons, all went to landfills.
The poor participation of the residents in recycling, including their failure to comply could be attributed to their ignorance of curbside trash laws.
The city ordinance provides that nobody is allowed to “set out for collection the recycling container with contents that exceed 2 percent of household garbage.”
The ordinance actually provides a limit to the amount of recyclable materials a garbage container should contain; which is 10%.
The ordinance describes recyclable materials to include, metal cans, cardboard, glass, plastic bottles and mixed paper. But it didn’t say anything about plastic grocery bags. According to the web site for the Cleveland Recycles, plastic grocery bags have been banned.
The site provided that “Place recyclables LOOSE in your blue cart or recycling dumpster,” and that “Plastic bags are not accepted curbside.”
Shelton stated that he wasn’t aware of that until recently.
He also stated that “For years, I had thought that as long as you put your recyclables into plastic grocery bags that they were recyclable,” until his wife corrected this wrong assumption. He went ahead to state that “I don’t think plastic bags are part of Cleveland’s enforcement restrictions, and if they are, it’s not clear”.
The result of an informal survey, carried out on Kamm’s Corner neighborhood in Cleveland on Tuesday provided that, about half the containers arranged across the lawns on the day of garbage pick-up contained recyclables in different plastic grocery bags. And according to Dan Williams, the City Hall Spokesperson, nobody has been cited for any faulty discard.
Williams went ahead to state that “The only ones we’re giving fines are for garbage violations, not recycling.” And that improper garbage set-out is actually the most common of all the citation violations.
Kelley also noted that the Cleveland web site for Recycles and lots of other educational materials have specified that plastic grocery bags should not be put in recycling bins. He however acknowledged the fact that there’s need to educate people more about recycling.
In his words, “I think the ordinance is pretty low on the totem pole for people to read and understand what is properly recycled. People have accepted that we have an issue and they want to do the right thing. So we’re going to continue to encourage compliance among the residents in the best and fairest way we can.”
According to Diane Bickett, the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District’s executive director, the Cleveland area continues to be plagued by issue of faulty recycling, thereby raising separation cost and reducing a lot of company’s profit from the processors.
Plastic grocery bags are called “tanglers” by people in the recycling business, which is often a problem for workers who’re trying to separate them from recyclables, so they end up sending everything into the garbage dump.
China, which happens to be the largest importer of American recycled paper, cardboard and plastic the world over, suspended all importation of recycled materials back in January because of recyclable contamination.
Bickett also stated in an interview that “Sometimes, a punitive measure like a fine is the only thing people will respond to.”
The city also gives out citations when you set out any amount that exceeds 5 bags of garbage, including 20 bags containing yard waste, and 20 bags of tree trunks or brush. These violations have a one-time fine of $350.
There are other citations for bringing out your waste containers before noon a day before pick-up, as well as for leaving them out after noon, day after pick-up.