Converting trash to cash

Recycling bins in an alley behind an apartment building in the City of Dayton. Photos courtesy of Tyler Lukacs. Recycling bins in an alley behind an apartment building in the City of Dayton. Photos courtesy of Tyler Lukacs.

Leave it to citizens, not politicians, to clean up a city

By Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell

Recycling bins in an alley behind an apartment building in the City of Dayton [top] and [bottom]. photos courtesy of tyler lukacs.

Recycling bins in an alley behind an apartment building in the City of Dayton. Photos courtesy of Tyler Lukacs.

During my first year as Southeast Priority Board (SEPB) chairperson, a young man from my neighborhood who also held a Priority Board seat asked me to Google “RecycleBank” and look at what this company was accomplishing in other American cities. RecycleBank ( rewards individuals and companies that recycle with points that can be exchanged for discounts at businesses and for credit. My colleague was excited and wanted Dayton to consider looking into RecycleBank. I challenged him to do some homework and present this to the housing committee of the SEPB. The committee concluded that he should present this to the entire board with city officials and directors in attendance. It took two attempts to get the right people from City Hall in the room (another story) but they heard the message, contacted the company and then did nothing because the upfront cost to implement the program was too great and the powers that be felt that recycling would not take off in Dayton. The first seed had been planted – by a citizen and not a civil servant.

Jump to two years later. I am the mayor and faced with a decision to vote on increasing the fee for waste collection to offset the city budget at a commission meeting. I voted “no” and explained my position to the other commissioners beforehand so they would not feel sideswiped by my action. My argument was simple — we were paying $38 per ton to dispose of trash in a landfill and $14 a ton to have our recyclables removed. There was cash to be saved, which could immediately affect the bottom line of the budget. Three commissioners supported the idea of increasing recycling efforts but voted to support the fee increase because the budget hole needed to be plugged sooner rather than later and my proposal would not generate the money needed quickly.

As weeks go by, the city launches a “Big Bin” program for certain neighborhoods to increase the amount of recyclables and decrease our disposal fees. A contract with Rumpke is renegotiated to slide downwards based on volume, starting at $6 a ton and going to $0 if we hit 500 tons a month. City Hall got the message and started tracking the savings.
Later that year, to plug another budget deficit, it was recommended to increase the fee again. I asked to pull the item from the agenda making it clear that I would only support an increase in fees if there was an improvement in service. I wanted every neighborhood to be able to request a big blue bin and I wanted to double up on bulk waste pick up in the summer months. Staff went back and figured out a way to do this. The savings from the increase in recyclables would contribute to the cost of the extra new bins needed to supply the neighborhoods that were not included in the first round. The volume increase from the additional bins would throw us over the 500-ton goal.

Fact: Most waste is recyclable and the City of Dayton’s recycling program is wonderfully simple. We take paper, cardboard, wax cardboard cartons, plastic, styrene, glass and metal of all types. The only things not recyclable are food waste, yard waste, cat litter, used paper towels and plastic grocery baggies (though some places will take them back). I use the grocery bags to put my trash in. Everything can be thrown in one bin and is sorted out by Rumpke. In fact, when in doubt, just put it in the recycle bin and let Rumpke decide. We have now reached 500 tons monthly and are pushing to reach 1,000 tons per month.

I have learned that paper is the staple product that the recycling companies want. Around 35 percent of municipal trash before recycling is some form of paper and so about 60 percent of what recyclers get and package for resale is paper. The price for scrap paper has continued to increase over the last few years. If you Google “scrap paper prices,” you may be surprised what you find. So with the focus on paper as the staple commodity, plastics and metal are the profit makers for the recycling companies. Locally, the city has provided Rumpke with some grants to improve their glass recycling capabilities so that they can sort glass by color. Currently they sell mixed pulverized glass to be used in the production of fiberglass. Glass has not been a major player in recycling until recently and locally they have found a way to profit from it. Separating by color improves the quality of the end product.

If you live in the City of Dayton, you should be recycling. It not only saves the city  – and you — money, but it reuses an obsolete product and helps local companies make a profit so that they are better positioned for expansion, which creates jobs.

So now that the City of Dayton has greatly reduced its costs in the disposal of recyclables where can this lead us? Maybe we could form a coalition with the school district, the hospitals, the universities and large local businesses to guarantee a certain tonnage so that the recyclers would be willing to pay us for their raw material. Now there is a way to generate some revenue that is not a tax, save money for local business, and increase local recycling opportunities to provide jobs and business growth. And that’s nothing to throw away.

Reach Dayton Mayor Gary D. Leitzell at (937) 333-3653 or

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