Cardboard will be banned from Iowa City garbage bins starting next year

Photo by Jordan Sellergren

As Iowa City residents haul the remains of their New Year’s Eve to curb, they’ll need to remember a new regulation: no cardboard in the garbage bin. Starting Jan. 2, a ban on corrugated cardboard at the Iowa City Landfill goes into effect. Corrugated cardboard (the sort of cardboard that has two pieces connected by a wavy layer of cardboard) may be placed in or under curbside recycling bins — boxes should be broken down, with pieces no larger than 2 ft. by 2 ft. — or taken to a recycling facility.

“Our goal in diverting cardboard out of the landfill and into the recycling program is not just waste minimization, but also to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced at the landfill,” Iowa City Recycling Coordinator Jane Wilch told Little Village. “Hopefully this will help get Iowa City closer to accomplishing our greenhouse gas reduction goal.”

Cardboard buried in a landfill gives off methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as it decays.

According to a 2017 solid waste study, the Iowa City Landfill receives 4,000 tons of cardboard over the course of a year. That’s a substantial improvement from 2011, when a solid waste study found the landfill was receiving approximately 15,000 tons each year.

“We have seen a drastic improvement, which is wonderful, but the bottom line is we still have 4,000 tons of cardboard going into the landfill every year,” Wilch said. “That’s still 4,000 tons of material we could be putting to better use. Cardboard is a very valuable and reusable material.”

People who put cardboard in their regular garbage bins after Jan. 2 won’t face a fine, they just won’t have their garbage collected. Landfill workers will be inspecting the loads garbage haulers bring to the landfill, and loads containing cardboard will be charged double their normal tipping fee. In order to avoid that, haulers won’t empty a garbage bin if they see it contains cardboard. Instead, they will attach to the bin a notice reminding the resident of the new regulation.

One of the main questions people have had about the ban so far won’t surprise anyone in Iowa City.

“We’ve gotten a phenomenal amount of calls and emails about pizza boxes,” Wilch said, with a laugh.

Pizza boxes, and other food-stained cardboard, should not be put in recycling bins.

“We encourage any residents who take part in the curbside composting program to put those items, in their yard waste bin, like any other organic material,” Wilch said. Residents who don’t have curbside composting can bring their food-stained cardboard to the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center.

“And if composting is not an option for residents, then pizza boxes will be allowed in the trash,” Wilch added.

Although the cardboard ban was passed by the Iowa City council, it will affect people beyond the city limits as well. Any resident of Johnson County whose garbage is hauled to the Iowa City Landfill will have keep their garbage bins cardboard-free. Except, perhaps, for the occasional pizza box.

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