U.S. Chamber Foundation Releases Assessment on Current State of Recycling in Cincinnati

November 11, 2019

The initial analysis, conducted as part of the Beyond 34 recycling initiative, identifies areas for improvement in Cincinnati’s waste management system

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation today released a preliminary assessment of the current state of waste and recycling in Cincinnati, Ohio. The assessment found that while Cincinnati has made great strides in the recovery of materials such as plastic, there is significant opportunity to improve the recycling of paper and compostable waste.

“Cincinnati has already taken important steps to improve its recycling rates through committed local leadership and valuable recycling data,” said Marc DeCourcey, Senior Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “Our initial research confirms this and identifies additional opportunities to take the city’s recycling and recovery systems to the next level through education, innovative methods, and effective private-public partnerships.” 

Cincinnati is the second location for the initiative, Beyond 34: Recycling and Recovery for a New Economy, following a pilot project in Orlando. The first-of-its kind private-public partnership aims to increase the current 34% recycling rate in the U.S. 

The current state assessment, developed in partnership with the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at Arizona State University, shed light on Cincinnati’s existing waste and recycling stream, historical recycling efforts in the city, and stakeholders that can help the city achieve its goal to reach zero waste by 2035 outlined in its 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan.

The key findings include:

  • While there are high-capture rates for materials such as recyclable plastic, there is notable room for improvement in the recycling of paper and compostable food and yard waste. In 2018, Cincinnati had reported a 22.25% diversion rate from landfill. 15.6% of the waste stream consists of paper that can be recycled, and 30.4% includes compostable organic material such as food and yard waste, presenting two opportunities to significantly increase the diversion rate. 
  • Cincinnati’s sustainability efforts and private-public partnerships put it in a favorable position to tackle recycling challenges experienced by other cities. Waste diversion and recycling have long been important priorities for the local government, which adopted its Green Cincinnati Plan setting ambitious, measurable sustainability goals. These include reducing food waste by 20% by 2025, decreasing residential tonnage of waste going to landfills by 20%, and increasing participation in curbside recycling programs by 20% for commercial areas. In addition, the city has leveraged public-private partnerships to maximize the impact of its efforts, such as the collaboration between CincyInsights – the City of Cincinnati's official visual open data portal – and Zerocycle that enables Cincinnati residents to compare their neighborhood’s performance through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in recycling carts.
  • Cincinnati is uniquely insulated from implications of China’s “National Sword” policy. Enacted by China in January 2018, the policy banned the import of most plastics to China, eliminating a crucial end-buyer for many U.S. recycling programs. Most of the end-buyers for Cincinnati’s waste collector Rumpke are located within the U.S. As a result, the city’s solid waste facilities have experienced fewer economic setbacks. 

New Partners Further Expand Beyond 34’s Reach into the Local Community

As part of its expansion into Cincinnati, Beyond 34 also announced three new partners – Procter & Gamble (P&G), The Kroger Co., and Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. – to join the effort to accelerate recycling infrastructure development in the city. All three companies have pioneered initiatives to reduce their environmental footprint. Both P&G and Kroger call Cincinnati home to their world headquarters.

“P&G supports the Beyond 34 mission to increase the current 34% recycling rate in the United States. This objective is aligned with P&G's Ambition 2030 goal to have 100% of our packaging recyclable,” said Brent Heist, Section Head, Global Packaging Sustainability at P&G. “We also want our packaging to be recycled by consumers. We look forward to learning what needs to be addressed in our hometown of Cincinnati to create a stronger circular economy.”

“Kroger is proud to partner with Beyond 34 in Cincinnati – our home – to accelerate the adoption of more sustainable practices by companies and consumers as part of Zero Hunger | Zero Waste, our bold social impact plan to end hunger in our communities and eliminate waste across our company by 2025,” said Lisa Zwack, Kroger’s Head of Sustainability. “Kroger is invested in increasing the recycling rate, both locally and nationally. And just last year alone, we recycled 52.1 million pounds of plastic across our operations, reaching a total 186.6 million pounds since we set our 2016 baseline goal to reach 200 million pounds by 2020.” 

The U.S. Chamber Foundation launched the Beyond 34 pilot project in Orlando, Florida in September 2017. As part of the effort to scale the program nationally, the U.S. Chamber Foundation is also developing an online portal of recycling and recovery tools and resources that will enable communities across the country to apply the Beyond 34 model effectively. 

More information on Beyond 34 and how it provides a community-centric approach to U.S. recycling issues is available here.