Vermilion residents need to get reacquainted with what can and cannot be recycled, as it’s costing the city money. That’s the message from Brandi Schnell, community outreach coordinator for the Lorain County Solid Waste Management District. Schnell was in attendance at Monday’s Vermilion City Council meeting to give members a recap for 2020, and information that would give better results in the future.

                Schnell said because more population for the City of Vermilion is on the Lorain County side, the entire city counts as part of the Lorain County Solid Waste Management District.  Recycling tonnage in 2019 was 791.4 tons, and that number dropped to 488.3 tons in 2020. Schnell said most communities saw a drop in recycling tonnage in 2020, as there were reduced services because of COVID. She said the bigger problem for Vermilion was an increase in the amount of contamination (things meant for the landfill) in recycling carts. When contamination is increased (meaning more trash in the recycling), Schnell said those trucks were having to be diverted to the landfill and often came with heavy contamination fees imposed on the city. “Those numbers then do not count for your recycling tonnages,” said Schnell. She said the Solid Waste District gives out community incentive grant money to communities based on the recycling. In 2020, the city received $11,695.53, almost $7,000 less than it received in 2019. She said the numbers for 2021 are not available yet. “I do hope that they are going in the other direction. But the way that we can combat that is by getting the information out to people about what can go into your recycling bin.”

                The City of Vermilion’s contamination rate is at 32%, making it the fifth most contaminated city in Lorain County. The average rate of contamination across Lorain County is 25%, the lowest being the City of Oberlin at 13%, mainly due to its decision to switch to an opt-in recycling program. “People just aren’t sure about what goes in there,” said Schnell. The five main items that go into a recycling container are cans, cartons, glass, paper, and plastic. Containers must be emptied and rinsed. Those with a plastic cap must have the cap rinsed and placed back on the container. “Plastic is the one that people usually get caught up on. So what I have started to tell people is plastic, bottles, jugs, and tubs,” she said. “I don’t even tell people about the numbers anymore. The numbers were not really put there by the recycling industry. They were put there by the manufacturers.”

                The number one thing that people do wrong is put their recyclables in a plastic bag and put them in a recycling bin. “That’s a big no no,” she said. “They want you to put them in there loose. Plastic bags are causing them pretty big problems. They get caught up in the machine and it becomes very difficult for them to open them up as the items are moving really quickly on the conveyor belt.” Schnell said if this information gets out, Vermilion’s contamination rates will go down, recycling will go up, and a recycling truckload will cost less than going to the landfill. She said a heavily contaminated load gets a fee tacked onto it, costing the city more money. “We can even that out of we can get that contamination rate down,” she said.

                Schnell said for years she did presentations for children, but said it is more powerful to go to the source – parents, etc., the people who are putting the recyclables directly in the bins. She does presentations to groups, tours of the center, etc. She also offered that everyone in the Lorain County Solid Waste Management District can take household hazardous waste, residential-generated cooking oils, and electronic waste to the Lorain County Collection Center, 540 S. Abbe Rd. in Elyria on Monday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday 12 noon to 6 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A lengthy list is available on their website as to what they take. “All these things can come to us, and we will dispose of them properly.” She said the district also has a paper shredding truck that shred sensitive documents.

                The district also has an environmental crimes unit, for which Deputy Brian Holmes, Ward 5 councilman, is one of the officers. She said these involve illegal dumping, litter complaints, and other things. Schnell said all this information is available on the solid waste district’s website. She also mentioned something new the district is doing and is a unique opportunity for the city is what she called a sea bin. She said this is part of a pilot study and is basically a garbage bin that sits on the water that pulls in water, collects debris and garbage, and the water flows back out. The district had one of only six of these bins in the United States, theirs being located in Lorain. She said the bin has to be located inland and on a dock with electricity. She said she got a grant to get two more, and the city was invited to take part in this.

                Schnell another thing the district is doing is cigarette litter prevention campaign with Keep America Beautiful. “Cigarette butts are litter, too. They are the number one most littered item in the whole world, and here is no exception.”

                “Your recycling center really is amazing,” said Councilwoman Barb Brady. “It’s a drive-thru, so it’s great.” Councilman Holmes said people always have questions like about pizza boxes. He said he remembered from a previous presentation how they are not recyclable because of the grease on the box. “Food waste makes up about 24% of everything that is in the landfill. It is a significant amount going into the landfills.” Schnell said the district is working with a company to put in an organics facility to help with yard waste and eventually into food waste. “Food waste is a contaminate in your recycling bin.: She said if you have a spaghetti jar, you can rinse it and put it in the bin. She said a pizza box – there is no way to clean the grease from the box, so it has to go in your regular trash.

                Schnell said she always gets asked about bottle caps. Caps, if they are securely on a container, can go into the recycling bin. She said the reason they cannot go in there separately is because anything smaller than the size of an ID card is not going to get where it needs to go in the recycling process. It ends up in the glass filter. She said if residents want to crush the air out of a plastic and put the lid back on, it makes it less likely the lid will come off. “You don’t have to remove labels from your packaging either. They will come off in the process.”