More initiatives will kick in to reduce waste going into the Iowa City Landfill

City of Iowa City Resource Management Superintendent Jen Jordan poses for a photo at the East Side Recycling Center. Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

A cardboard ban will kick into effect Jan. 2, 2018 in an effort to keep about 14,500 tons of cardboard waste out of the Iowa City Landfill. The ban is part of a series of waste minimization initiatives, including a streamlined recycling process that will hit Iowa City curbside pickups this fall.

The first round of initiatives — mandating recycling pickup services at multi-family residences with more than four units, curbside food waste collection, a secured load policy and bans on computer monitors and TVs — have all been put into place. Starting this fall, Iowa City customers will have access to single stream recycling, meaning plastic, paper, cardboard and metals can be mixed together. (This excludes glass which can be recycled at drop off sites such as the East Side Recycle Center.) The cardboard ban was unanimously passed by the Iowa City Council July 18 this year.

Efforts to put a plastic bag ban into place were torpedoed by a bill in the Iowa Legislature earlier this year — part of the same bill that struck down local minimum wage ordinances.

Jen Jordan, the new Resource Management Superintendent, oversees the landfill, curbside collection and recycling programs. Jordan, who has been working at the Johnson County Landfill for 11 years, watches from her office as 18,000 tons of food waste and about 15,000 tons of cardboard are needlessly buried every year. Currently cardboard makes up about 12 percent of materials entering the landfill, according to a report submitted by Jordan to the Iowa City Council.

“It’s a huge amount of resources that we’re burying, and I can literally look out the window of my office and see the trucks backing up every day,” Jordan said. “It’s a daily reminder that we need to do better.”

Before cardboard is officially banned from the landfill, the city plans to educate the community through outreach initiatives and social media under the direction of a yet-to-be-hired recycling coordinator. In preparation for larger amounts of cardboard at recycling centers, the waste systems received a $23,000 grant funding a cardboard compactor.

The curbside composting program allows Iowa City residents to compost food waste with the purchase of a yard waste sticker. The city also provides tips on ways to reduce food waste to begin with. In 2012, the National Resource Defense Council reported that the average American throws away 20 pounds of food waste every month, amounting to about $168 billion each year nationwide.

“The food waste and the cardboard are the number one and two things that go into the landfill — it’s a huge waste because not only is it going into a hole in the ground that is going to produce methane, but we’ve also run out of compost the past few years,” Jordan said. “It’s a double negative if we throw it away and a double positive if we actually reuse the resource.”

Waste management systems rely on trash to fund water quality tests, staff, trucks and monitoring for the four decades worth of trash already rotting in the landfill. Currently a lot of the money that funds the recycling program comes from the cost of throwing things away in the landfill and from government subsidies.

“As we reduce the amount of trash going into the landfill we’ll have less money to spend on the recycling.” Jordan said.

Incremental increases in city wide recycling fees have helped cover the costs, but Jordan hopes that recycling will one day be able to pay for itself.

“The stuff that we just rolled out we’ll be working on for a while.” Going forward, Jordan said she and other city staff members will be working towards “getting the word out and making sure people are [recycling] correctly.”

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