Recycling plan causes controversy in University Heights

Laken Kincaid, Managing Editor

On Feb. 1, 2022, Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan of University Heights proposed, what he calls, a “people first” budget. Yet, there is debate over the mayor’s proposition regarding his expected measures for sustainability for the city. City council members had a problem with the recycling portion of Brennan’s plan because, according to detractors, it was over budget and may not reflect what citizens want now. Brennan says that the current method of recycling in University Heights is not efficient economically or environmentally. 

“We have the third-worst recycling results in the county outside of the city of Cleveland,” Mayor Brennan stated. “Right now we’re at four percent of our solid waste being recycled. That’s just four percent. Meanwhile, we got the third most expensive trash pickup in the county.”

Most of the mayor’s efforts in helping the city with their sustainability stems from his goals set in 2019 when he issued a revision of the solid waste study initially conducted on University Heights in 2009. Much of the survey revolved around evaluating labor expenses, workforce wellness and overall green aspects of the town’s current measures. Brennan also says that the current “scooter trash pickup” for the city is costly because of how quickly their transmissions die and the amount of diesel fuel they exhaust.

Brennan states that the main troubles with the current methods of recycling are the blue bags that citizens put their recycling in. He says that they cost the city money when “we should be getting paid to recycle.”

“When you put recyclables in a blue plastic bag, they go to the materials recovery facility,” Brennan started. “That bag has to be broken open, the contents put on a conveyor and the blue bag is thrown away. The bags that end up on the conveyor belt can jam up the works and cause the entire recycling plant  to have to stop the line to untangle the bag from machinery. You have all this automated and semi automated equipment that sorts all this stuff. The blue bag is not something that they recycle. So they charge us a premium now and have since September of 2020 to process recyclables in a blue bag.”

Brennan is also concerned about the work of the service personnel who are picking up the trash. 

“Now we talk about how we love our service employees,” Brennan continued. “They come out and they do all this stuff for us. But how much do we love them when we break down their bodies to do what we’re doing when we don’t have to do it like that? I got a guy who’s on out on workers’ compensation leave right now who injured himself picking up a recycle bag.”

The new plan proposed within the budget suggests that all residents are given a 64 gallon, curbside container to dispose of their recycling rather than placing their waste in the aforementioned blue bags. 

Opponents to Brennan’s plan say that the mayor’s plan was submitted multiple weeks late and 5 million dollars over budget. Yet, Brennan holds firm on the resolutions of his plan.

“I have tried all kinds of things: I have tried reason, I have tried advocacy, I have tried shame,” Brennan said. “I have tried making the financial argument because the financial argument is good. I’ve tried making the ecological argument because the ecological argument is good. I think what it comes down to is certain people want what they want, the world be damned. You know, the money be damned, you can claim you’re fiscally conservative and then just piss away the money on whatever you want. They’re going to find that most of the rest of the people that live here really want to see the community modernize. And eventually, new people will be elected to make better decisions.”

Objectors, like Councilwoman Sheri Sax, have multiple critiques about the recycling portion of the budget; many of them pertaining to how the budget was created and if the budget is for the betterment of the citizens. 

“I’ve never worked for an organization or company that would find it acceptable for the CEO, you know, the mayor, the president, head of the organization, to submit anything but a balanced revenue positive budget and certainly not after the start of the fiscal year,” Councilwoman Sax told The Carroll News.

Sax also says that she is worried how this will impact University Heights’ citizens taxes and if citizens actually want this plan in general. She stresses that citizens should vocalize their opinions on recycling in an upcoming survey.

“So people say, I want to keep my backyard trash at any cost,” Sax continued. “We want to hear that. I, being on the campaign trail, I did not hear that. no matter what recommendations, suggestions, results of the surveys, anything, it’s ultimately up to the administration to implement or ignore.”

Sax emphasized that it is important that University Heights citizens are at the forefront of the discussion and that their words be heard.

Debate is expected to continue on Brennan’s recycling plan as the council meets with the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste district regarding the survey. But it is unclear when survey results will be in. 

Either way, John Carroll students will be impacted by the recycling measures in University Heights whether Brennan’s plan passes or not. This could lead to future involvement and discussion among collegiates on campus about whether or not the budget is best for the campus. 

“From what I’ve heard, it sounds like there are major efforts to push for the new style of recycling,” Logan Sindone ‘24 told The Carroll News. “I was personally surprised at how recycling worked in UH when I learned about it. It’s surprising that there’s as much pushback as there is. But, ultimately, residents are the best people for this debate.”