City responds to recycling uproar

Mary Atkinson/Jacob Lane · Wednesday, October 2, 2013
The West Liberty city council discussed at its meeting, Sept. 17, immediate and long-term solutions concerning the way the city will handle recycling.

Ideas included curbside recycling, hiring a temporary position to take charge of recycling, and educating the public through various outlets. The police department has already installed a camera to ensure correct recycling.

The hot topic first came to light when City Manager Chris Ward confirmed that the tin and plastic collected in the bins at the center are often rejected in Muscatine after West Liberty hauls the goods there. The materials are too contaminated because they're improperly sorted, and are sent to the landfill.

It was also discussed during the meeting that glass cannot be recycled, due to injuries across the region. However, paper and cardboard are just fine.

Citizens of West Liberty were not only upset about the lack of recycling, but that the issue has only recently come to light.

"It is just something that, in my opinion, that should not have happened," said community member Cindy Mays during the open public session. "I don't like to not know what's going on. I just think the citizens of West Liberty and people in the community were really let down by this."

She and a few other citizens of West Liberty were on hand to voice their disappointment and frustration toward the city during the meeting.

"A lot of folks are not just upset about the lack of recycling, but the lack of transparency," said Mayor Chad Thomas during the meeting. "We have to address the issue and work with the public."

He said it was decided that the city will focus more on immediate issues as long-term options are researched.

City Manager Ward stated in a memo and during the meeting that a surveillance camera was installed on site to monitor illegal dumping.

The hope is to cut down on the number of contaminates put into loads, that way loads have a lower possibility of being rejected in Muscatine.

The memo also said a bin would be added for scrap metal as an alternative to throwing it in the wrong bin.

A garbage bin for plastic bags was discussed during the session, because plastic bags cannot be recycled, and are one of the biggest reasons loads become contaminated.

A temporary person to educate the public, and be the go-to authority on local recycling was also discussed. Better signage on containers at the site, along with increased public education on the city's website and other media outlets, are other possible avenues to increase recycling success.

Finally, curbside recycling was brought up as a possible solution. Families put everything together in a single container, which collected from their household each week and sorted by the city. While the simplest solution, it's also the most costly one.

The city would not profit from the program; however, many council members were insistent that making money wasn't the point. In fact, the money made from recycling paper and cardboard could be used to fund curbside recycling.

But even with that, it's still a costly endeavor. West Liberty City Treasurer Lee Geertz said the curbside program costs residents around $20 per person in her hometown of Nichols. But, the program has been successful.

"Most people I talked to wanted to do curbside," said Councilmember Robert Hartman. Along with Nichols, Wilton and Muscatine have some form of curbside recycling.

Solutions will continue to be discussed in the months to come; however, the council must take the city's budget in hand as well.

"I think we need explore all of those things, but we need to, in short term, try to make this manageable right now until we can get that budgeted," Councilmember Melody Russell said.

City Manager Ward was advised to meet with Laura Liegois, the Solid Waste Manager for the Muscatine Recycling Center and transfer station, to assess the city's current recycling center and ways to continue working in the "right direction."
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