A warning to lax recyclers: The city of Des Moines is going to leave your cart curbside if you’re breaking the recycling rules.
To cut down on bad recycling, Des Moines Public Works has begun conducting curbside audits. If you put too much of the wrong stuff in your cart, it might still be sitting there when you get home from work.
Public Works rejected 245 recycling carts audited in March, according to Director Jonathan Gano. He anticipates employees will sift through several thousand carts through May.
“We’ve had two years in a row of record amounts of recyclables,” Gano said Monday during a City Council work session. Des Moines collected more than 20 million pounds of recyclable materials from residential bins in both 2015 and 2016.
“But we have record amounts of trash going into the recycling bins,” he added. Public works pulled 1.7 million pounds of non-recyclable garbage from blue carts in 2014. This year, it’s on track to collect 2.4 million pounds. That trash has included everything from garden hoses and youth swimming pools to wood pallets and auto parts.
The audits are targeting the most blatantly wrong recycling habits: Workers simply pop the lid of a cart and look inside. Staff won’t be fishing around or dumping out the cart and looking at every single piece, Gano said. An informative flyer is posted on each rejected cart.
But the head of public works did make a specific plea: Don’t throw plastic bags of recyclables in your cart. Those carts will be rejected.
In February, for the first time in a decade, the recycling plant rejected an entire truckload of recyclables, diverting it straight to the landfill.
“Your neighbor’s performance can mean your recyclables are rejected, too,” Gano said.
All that trash makes the city’s single-stream recycling program less efficient and ultimately costs the city money through increased processing expenses, Gano said. It costs the city almost double for recycling because of the extra step of sorting out the non-recyclables for the landfill.
And some of the trash ends up in the finished product, which reduces its resale value.
The city made $150,000 from the resale of recycled materials in 2016. That total was down from $650,000 in 2012. However, most of that reduction is a result of international trade bans, rather than recycling scofflaws.
China, once a major importer of American recyclables, began cracking down on shipping containers full of contaminated or improperly mixed scrap in 2013, according to The Associated Press. China’s campaign, dubbed the Green Fence, abruptly changed a multibillion-dollar global industry and cut the value of American recyclables.
Houston-based Waste Management, the largest trash hauler in the U.S., sold off recycling facilities, including one in Des Moines. That facility at 201 S.E. 18th St. was sold to Mid America Recycling in 2015.
But prices are better now than they were six months ago, Gano said; it’s an indicator that the market is recovering.
Right now, the recycling program in Des Moines, while free to the customer, is subsidized by your trash bill. In effect, everyone is paying for recycling. Total recycling market recovery likely wouldn’t make a big impact on the individual pocketbook, however.
The cost of recycling is less than 10 percent the total cost of the solid waste enterprise, but Gano said every little bit helps.
And recycling helps extend the life of the two metro-area landfills, which are projected to last into the 2050s.
Sanitation fees have remained steady for the past decade at $11 (64-gallon service) to $12 (96-gallon service) a month, but there may be increases in future years, Gano said. That price still beats the $21.02 Cedar Rapids residents paid for solid waste and recycling this fiscal year, he noted.
Gano said the city will likely have to consider raising the fee in the future.
“We’re trying to find as many ways to reduce our waste stream as possible,” Gano said.
He hinted that the city is exploring ways to recycle textiles, kitchen scraps and restaurant waste.
Public works is also rewarding “super recyclers,” whose driveways are emblazoned with a gold-lidded blue bin. These are residents that requested a recycling audit via the public works website. As of April 7, 133 homes have participated in the gold lid program, and still a small percentage are rejected.
“Part of the purpose is to cut out well-intentioned, what we call wishful, recycling because what is recyclable is a moving target in different communities,” Gano said. “But what we’re also trying to limit (is) the amount of bad recycling where people are using their recycling bin as an extra trash bin.”
Scott Bents, a Beaverdale resident, read about the program in the December City Source newsletter.
“I thought it was kind of funny. My wife and I recycle regularly and I thought, why not?” Bents said.
He registered, but wasn’t told when he’d be audited.
“That was the mysterious part,” Bents said. “I didn’t know when they were coming, so I had to be on my best behavior.”
A friend at Metro Waste Authority sent him information on best practices. He learned not to recycle plastic yogurt lids or bottle caps. Which of his friends got their gold lids first became a friendly Facebook battle.
“I used to be somebody who put it in just to be safe,” Bents said. “I think this process has taught me to be more attentive.”
Super recyclers may be entitled to enhanced recycling collection services in the future if the city ever steps into weekly collection, Gano said.
“We’ve got hundreds of people asking for these. It was a low-cost … way to reward people,” Gano said.
- NHS worker, 31, claims she was heckled in the street after 'botched' fillers left her with lumpy lips before the salon branded her a 'bitter liar' when she complained
- China's recycling ban has sent America's plastic to Malaysia. Now they don't want it -- so what next?
- Plastic waste and the recycling myth
- How much plastic is in the ocean, what plastic can be recycled and why is single-use plastic bad?
- China cleans up electronic recycling
- Australia will ban export of recyclable waste 'as soon as practicable', PM vows
- Watch Your Dead Tech Get Demolished at an E-Waste Recycling Plant
- Kenya needs to step up efforts to recycle e-waste
- Could forcing industry to use recycled packaging fix our recycling crisis?
- Company taking over SKM Recycling hopes to get business back to capacity