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Talking trash: How to weigh in on Hamilton County's solid waste plan

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A draft of the next solid waste plan for Hamilton County is ready for public feedback. Hamilton County R3source is working on the 15-year plan, which has to be updated every five years.

Public comment is open online at the Hamilton County R3source website through March 9, and a public hearing is scheduled for March 14.

The draft plan sets a goal to divert 27% of residential waste and 50% of commercial waste away from the landfill by 2038.

Solid Waste Manager Michelle Balz says the EPA recommends prioritizing a category of waste to reduce.

"We've chosen food for a few reasons," Balz said. "Food makes up about 15% of the waste stream for both residential and commercial. And as far as processing food at the end of its life, we have a very weak infrastructure in Southwest Ohio."

Balz says food waste has the greatest potential for diversion from the landfill. The strategy includes:

  • Educating consumers through the "Wasted Food Stops with Us" and other awareness campaigns
  • Strengthening food rescue infrastructure
  • Encouraging composting whatever waste is left

The draft plan includes $150,000 to commission a study on the possibility of a public-private partnership for food scrap composting.

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The draft also increases financial support for businesses from $145,000 to $220,000, about 50% more.

"The commercial and industrial sectors make up about 86% of the waste generated in Hamilton County, but historically we have budgeted a pretty small slice of our budget to helping businesses start recycling and other waste reduction programs," Balz said.

The Residential Recycling Incentive is maintained at $800,000, but with plans to expand the scope. This pot of funding is distributed to communities in Hamilton County for residential recycling infrastructure; the amount for each community is based on its recycling rate, meaning communities are paid more if they increase recycling.

"We'll likely have to change the name from Residential Recycling [Incentive] because we're going to let communities count business recycling [and] commercial recycling, which is a huge change," Balz said.

One part of the draft plan is entirely new: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

"We are the first solid waste district in Ohio to incorporate something like this into our Solid Waste Plan," Balz said. "But it's really important to us that we make sure that our programs are inclusive, and that we are offering accessible programming to residents."

R3source hired a consultant to evaluate current services and recommend changes for the new solid waste plan. Balz says it was very eye opening.

"We do not track demographics in our programs like we should," she said. "So when our consultant was looking at our programs to measure how well we're doing, they said, 'Well, you're not tracking all of these things so we can't tell you how well you're doing.' So that is the first thing that we've already implemented."

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The draft plan includes goals to invest in community partnerships, collect better data, and use that data for decision-making and policy and program development.

See the full draft plan online at the Hamilton County R3source website, and see a summary report below (story continues after):

Timeline and public feedback

The 30-day public comment period ends on March 9. You can submit comments in writing on the Hamilton County R3source website.

A public hearing is scheduled for March 14 at 1 p.m.

After all public feedback is submitted, the Hamilton County Solid Waste Policy Committee will have a chance to make changes before approving and starting the ratification process. That could happen as early as March 15, but is likely to occur at the May meeting.

RELATED: Great Parks of Hamilton Co. aims to increase recycling in its 22 parks and preserves

The plan has to get approval from the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, and from communities representing 60% of the county population; Cincinnati has to be one of those communities, even if the 60% threshold is reached without it. Those rules are part of state law.

Communities will have 90 days to ratify the plan (or not) once the policy committee approves it.

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.