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Upcoming hackathon seeks innovative ideas to increase recycling in Cincinnati

Robots will enable Rumpke to sort faster and eventually take more items.
Ann Thompson
Rumpke recycling center in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati officials are launching a global search for innovative ideas to increase recycling.

Council Member Liz Keating announced the second "hackathon" contest, funded with $20,000 in the current city budget.

"We are addressing the question, how can the city increase effective recycling participation among single family, multifamily and commercial residences?" Keating said.

Keating says the hackathon is focused on two innovation spaces: tech and policy.

"We're kicking things off with our tech hackathon, which will focus on addressing our corporate partners' and city needs in the data transfer, supply chain and consumer behavior spaces," Keating said.

RELATED: From the Metaverse to a pig-shaped truck, hackathon sparks ideas to control litter

That phase is primarily for tech-oriented and startup participants. It starts April 21, followed by a week of mentoring and office hours. Participants will pitch their ideas April 28, vying for cash prizes. But any of the projects could end up partnering with one of the many corporate partners to keep developing the concept:

  • Coca-Cola Consolidated
  • Duke Energy Convention Center / OVG360
  • Fifth Third Bank
  • Kroger
  • MadTree
  • Michelman
  • The Ohio Beverage Association
  • PepsiCo
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Rumpke

Another hackathon in late May will be for sustainability advocates and civic leaders to pitch policy ideas. The event will partner with Cintrifuse, a local company that works with tech startups.
Several of the corporate partners have a significant financial interest in widespread use of single-use or limited-use consumer products. Cintrifuse CEO Pete Blackshaw responded to questions from WVXU about whether these corporations' involvement will influence the projects coming out of the hackathon.

"We work with these companies all the time. They are really hungry to innovate, and I think they're gonna lift the process," Blackshaw said. "It's a good question to ask, you're kind of holding us accountable. But I think we're going to be surprised at what's going to come out of it. And I think a lot of it's going to come out of these big challenges that the big [companies] are bringing to the table; they know they need to figure this out."

Registration for both events is open now through April 14 at

Keating says last year’s hackathon about litter resulted in one group getting an accelerator grant. And a few other ideas from the event will be put into practice later this year through Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.

What recycling problems need to be solved?

Industry representatives say companies want to use more recycled material to produce new products, but there isn't enough supply.

"We are very focused on plastic, but we also recognize all of our containers have value, and living their best life is to become a new container," said Kimberly McConville, executive director of the Ohio Beverage Association. "So whether we're working on packaging, design, and lightweighting our containers, or investing in recycling infrastructure around the country, and certainly supporting consumer education."

The recycling participation rate in Cincinnati was 70% in 2015, meaning 70% of households used their recycling bins at least some of the time. Ollie Kroner, director of the city's Office of Environment and Sustainability, says that participation rate is not growing the way they want it to.

RELATED: How to recycle broken or unwanted holiday lights across the Tri-State

"We've seen a period of stagnation over the last couple of years; there are ebbs and flows and how much waste is being produced. COVID is obviously a giant asterisk in our dataset," Kroner said. "But this is an opportunity to take a closer look at what is working and what is not. And we would like to see a significant increase in the years to come."

There's also the goal of diverting a lot more recyclable material from landfills, meaning households recycling a lot more than they are right now. In 2020, 17% of waste was recycled, with the other 83% going to the landfill.

"Year over year, we're seeing an increase in the amount of waste that each Cincinnatian sends to the dump," Kroner said. "And this is a finite resource — as Rumpke will tell you, we were running out of room in the landfill day by day."

The Green Cincinnati Plan sets the ambitious goal for the city have zero waste by 2035.

Recycling in Cincinnati

Learn more about how to recycle in Cincinnati at

Curbside recycling pickup happens every other week on the same day as regular trash collection (which happens weekly).

Check the flier below for a summary of what you can and cannot recycle. Go to the city's website for a complete list of items you can and can't recycle.

City of Cincinnati

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.