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Columbus set to cut off subsidy for recyclers

It's going to cost more to be "green" in COlumbus. Curb side recyclers in the city will soon have to pay a higher fee for the service.

The fee is set to rise by 65 percent after city council voted to stop subsidizing the program. About 12,000 households around the city use the Curbside Recycling program. Customers pay $5 a month, and are given a red plastic bin. Each week they fill it with glass bottles, aluminum cans and various other recyclables. They set it on their curb and the trash company Rumpke empties it. It works much like the city's trash service. The recycling program began in 1994, and two years ago the city began subsidizing a portion of the costs in hopes of increasing participation.

"Because of tight economic times, we are longer able to keep subsidizing Rumpke." Mary Karen Webster is the assistant director of Columbus' Department of Public Service. "We just couldn't afford right now to continue to do that," Webster says. "We were fortunate that Rumpke wanted to continue offering curb-side. They could have just said no and just gone home."

Cutting the $389,000 annual subsidy will mean a sharp increase for customers. The monthly fee is set to jump from $5 a month to $8.25 a month.

Billing procedures will not change because the city sends the subsidy as a lump sum directly to Rumpke.

Jonathan Kissell is a spokesman for the trash company.

"We were very happy to work with the city to make sure that the program continued to exist for Columbus residents," Kissell says. "At the same time, we understand fluctuations occur in the market and the economy. All in all Rumpke wants to continue to do what's right to be able to offer that curb-side recycling program to residents of Columbus." Kissell says people already participating in the program are committed to recycling, and he's confident they're willing to endure the price increase. He's right about at least one recycler.

Dan Kline lives in German Village. He's used the curbside programming since moving into the city two years ago. "For our personal situation we'll continue to recycle," Kline says. "We think it's an important issue, so we'll pay the increase. But it's unfortunate that this is a priority that I think has been minimized by the city." For those who can't or don't want to endure the price increase, there are plenty of places to take recyclables. Over the last year the city has installed 120 new drop off locations at schools and parks around the city.

But hauling and dropping off cans and bottles can be cumbersome and time consuming. Both the city and Rumpke admit price increases and drop offs are not a permanent solution. Even before the price increase only about two percent of Columbus residents regularly recycle. The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, or SWACO, recently began a study on how to improve recycling and trash hauling. Spokesman John Remy says a large part of the study is talking with waste authorities from cities similar to Columbus.

"We want to see what systems work best, and get a handle on that," Remy says. "Then we can come back and present a comprehensive look at this. There a lot of ideas out there that maybe other cities do that we haven't tried yet." Remy says he expects the study to be finalized around June, the same month the curbside program's price increase takes effect.