|Many WL recycled materials go straight to dump |
by Mary Atkinson · September 18, 2013
Many West Liberty residents are shocked to learn, since the revelation Sept. 3, that the time they spend on recycling efforts may serve little to no purpose.
During the town's city council meeting it was discovered that the only materials currently being recycled are paper and cardboard. Most of the plastic, glass and tin brought to the recycling bins north of town continues to go to the landfill.
According to a memo to Mayor Chad Thomas from City Manager Chris Ward, this has has been the case for some time now.
It stated 90 percent of plastic, glass and tin collected from the drop-off facility in West Liberty was being rejected by the Muscatine Solid Waste Agency due to contamination, such as mixed trash and unranked containers.
The memo also stated that "At one point plastic was being recycled. However this is not the case [now]."
The current recycling program in West Liberty has citizens separating materials themselves, cleaning them, then taking the recyclables to a designated drop-off site where dumpsters are placed for each type of material.
From there, goods are hauled to the transfer station in Muscatine, where it is determined whether materials are clean enough to be recycled; however, if contamination exists then that load cannot be recycled and is taken to the landfill.
Ward confirmed to the council that plastic, glass, and tin are not currently being recycled due to high costs. West Liberty’s system relies on people to sort and separate goods before putting them in the bins, such as separating glass by color, but many do not. To have the city do the sorting costs a lot of money.
"Because of the amount of time and intensiveness, we simply do not have the manpower or the facilities to do that sort of thing," Ward told the council.
Ward also told the council that plastic recycling comes down to an issue of weight.
"There is just not enough weight in plastic to haul it down," Ward said. "We could fill, I believe, the garbage truck with plastic, but it would only weigh about 500 pounds. Therefore, we don't get as much weight or volume."
Rick Hora, who works for the city and is in charge of the recycling, told the council that it would cost the city more to truck plastic, glass and tin to the transfer station than what the city would profit from it. He said the city has only one truck and too tight a schedule in hauling materials to make plastic worthwhile.
The Council's Response
One question on the minds of many citizens, as well as council members, is why the public was not made aware of the issue before.
Council member Ethan Anderson was taken aback by the information.
"To be honest, I kind of find this appalling," Anderson said. "I don't understand how we could be doing this for 3 or 4 years - that's 36 to 48 loads if they go every month."
Anderson said he did not understand why something had not been done, like putting a camera at the drop off site to monitor individuals and make sure they're doing it right.
"To me it feels really dishonest to ask people to put stuff in the bins and we know it's not getting recycled. That's a problem."
Mayor Thomas explained that he felt the city should not be asking people to do the work of recycling in their homes if the materials end up in the landfill anyway.
"The part that troubles me on this is if we are not doing this, then we need to not have containers out there that say plastic, tin and glass so that people can make other choices," Thomas said.
"Either they're not going to recycle, or maybe we can finally start having a real conversation about curb-side recycling and discussing what the cost is. Maybe as a city we want to bear the costs of hauling plastic even though its a loss, but if we don't know, then we can't have that conversation," he added.
Council member Melody Russell suggested that the profit the city makes on the paper and cardboard could be used to haul the other materials. She said the recycling issue should not be about making money.
"This is not a money making venture," Russell said. "This is about us being ecologically sound and providing for the future of our community and our children and our grandchildren."
Russell also said she felt consistent public education is a very important factor when it comes to reducing problems with recycling, and that the city should not be giving up on the concept of recycling just because there is no money to be made or because it may cost the city some money.
"Are we going to step away from it and tell our kids it's okay to throw it in the trash?" Russell asked. “I don't think that is the message we want to send.”
Laura Liegois, Solid Waste Manager of the Muscatine Recycling Center and Transfer Station, was present at the meeting.
She explained ways the city of Muscatine handled recycling issues. Muscatine has a drop off site equipped with a camera as well as curb side recycling which, she said, significantly reduced the amount of problems Muscatine was experiencing.
"I think that you are certainly at a point where you need to look at what your options are to make everything work," Liegois said. "Because it is giving people false hope when they are recycling and you're not."
Concerned resident John Hawkins said he was very upset about this information. The Muscatine Journal ran an article about the issue last Thursday, plus Hawkins saw a news broadcast that night on KWWL.
"I feel like I've been deceived all this time," Hawkins said, "I feel like I've been doing my part and for what? I feel like we have been slapped in the face."
Hawkins said if the issue had been put before the public a long time ago then a solution could have been in the works before now.
This sentiment is shared by many other citizens who have made recycling a part of their daily routine. They have expressed their concerns and aggravation through phone calls and emails to city hall and the Index.
If nothing is done soon, many may just stop attempting to recycle all together.
When council member Robert Hartman asked about a previously discussed plan to build a storage shed to hold some of the recyclables until they could be transferred, Ward said the plan became unfeasible when the council asked him to look at areas for budget cuts at the time.
Mayor Thomas told City Manager Ward that the budget is a side issue and that the city should continue looking at all the options regardless of the budget.
"It's really about what direction we are going to take," Thomas said. "You don't say we are not going to consider options just because we don't have the budget for it right now."
It was decided that Ward would meet with Muscatine's Solid Waist Manager Liegois over available options to the city that could be beneficial.
Liegois said that there is a funding source through the Department of Natural Resources called a SWAP grant, which stands for Solid Waster Alternative Program, that is funded by landfill tipping fees. West Liberty's solid waste agency is Muscatine who pays into this program.
She told the council that even though Muscatine has a dual program - drop off site and curb side recycling, there isn't a sorting facility there.
Recyclable items are hauled to the Quad Cities and then transported to a $5 million facility in Chicago which sorts materials. This single sorting program puts all recyclables into one container.
"It's a very publicly driven program in the city of Muscatine." Liegois said.
She also told the council that by using an outside source the city of Muscatine was able to keep the rates low.