Government

Cedar Rapids tries to address roadside litter

Fighting problem takes money, extra help, machines, citations

Cedar Rapids city employees Matt Strope (from left), Kevin Williams and Cory Rains pick up litter Thursday along Third Street SW and Interstate 380. The city is looking into ways to fight litter along the interstate and in other areas, a problem that is more visible in the spring. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids city employees Matt Strope (from left), Kevin Williams and Cory Rains pick up litter Thursday along Third Street SW and Interstate 380. The city is looking into ways to fight litter along the interstate and in other areas, a problem that is more visible in the spring. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Roadside litter continues to clog entryways to Cedar Rapids despite steady efforts to clean it up, and matters could worsen if the state eliminates a 5-cent deposit on carbonated and alcoholic beverage containers, officials said.

Stark Enterprises Inc., of Fairfax, a contractor hired by the city of Cedar Rapids, has collected 165 bags of trash from along Interstate 380 since Christmas, and “it doesn’t look like they’ve done anything,” Mark Jones, Cedar Rapids solid waste superintendent, said during a meeting of the Cedar Rapids Linn County Solid Waste Agency earlier this month.

“The contractor has been out three times in less than a month, and there’s more stuff now, and I don’t know where it is coming from,” Jones said of the I-380 access ramp at Seventh and Eighth streets NE.

The city hired Stark for $35,000 in fiscal 2018 and $38,000 in fiscal 2019 to help fight litter.

Meanwhile, city crews have collected 166 bags and vacuumed up more than 8 tons of trash around the city, including in the Wellington Heights, Taylor and Moundview neighborhoods.

Utility director Steve Hershner believes progress is being made overall.

“It’s been an ideal spring for collecting,” Hershner said. “While we know there’s always room for improvement, we feel like we’ve made a dent in it.”

The volume of litter and the city’s response is on par with other years, although a year with less snow, such as this one, creates the perception of more litter, city officials said.

IMPRESSIONS

Early spring is typically the time of year litter collection becomes a priority, they said.

Scott Olson, a City Council member and a member of the Solid Waste Agency board, lamented the number of I-380 access ramps cluttered with trash and the impression it creates for visitors.

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“There is nothing worse than getting on the interstate from downtown, or coming off, and those fence lines are just full of trash,” Olson said, highlighting the ramps at Diagonal Drive SW and Seventh and Eighth streets NE.

“It sends the wrong signal when someone comes into the city,” he said. “We know it is (the Iowa Department of Transportation’s responsibility to maintain the interstate), but it reflects on the city.”

BOTTLE BILL

Jones and Karmin McShane, executive director of the Solid Waste Agency, noted changes to the state’s bottle bill, which requires the 5-cent deposit, could impact roadside trash.

If the bill is expanded to include more types of bottles, such as water bottles, it could help mitigate roadside litter, they said.

However, if the deposit goes away, as some retailers want, “it will be 10 times worse,” McShane said.

City crews are employing a variety of tactics to address litter, including using leaf collection trucks to vacuum up litter.

Also, the city plans to announce the purchase of a new piece of equipment focused on litter collection this spring.

And City Manager Jeff Pomeranz has an initiative called the One Bag Challenge, in which he challenges residents to collect one bag of trash each year.

CITATIONS

Enforcement also is taking center stage, officials said.

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“We are trying to do a stop and fine someone, but along the S-curve, that’s hard to do,” Jones said. “Enforcement would be part of the key to the potential solution. Make people really aware they can be fined.”

McShane and other officials blame trash blowing out of uncovered trucks as a major contributor to roadside litter — more so than people intentionally discarding trash from their vehicles — and it is particularly problematic along County Home Road leading to the landfill in Marion.

“It irritates me so much the number of trucks that come to our facility unsecured,” McShane said.

She said the landfill fines uncovered vehicles $10 for residential and $25 for commercial loads, but it is not much of deterrent. The fine for spilling loads on highways is $330, and the landfill files complaints with the sheriff, she said.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said fines are infrequent because it is difficult to catch people in the act or to trace back litter to its source.

In Cedar Rapids, the fine for littering is $154.50, which includes court costs, said Greg Buelow, the city’s public safety spokesman. There’s been just three citations for littering since 2015, although 335 cases of illegal dumping in that time frame, he said.

LITTER HOTLINE

You can report people you see littering from a vehicle.

The Keep Iowa Beautiful organization runs a toll-free No Litter Hotline.

Here’s how it works:

• Call 1-(888) NOLITTR — 1-(888) 665-4887 — and press 1 to make a report.

• Provide as much detail as you can — time, location, license plate, vehicle description (color, make of vehicle), description of what was littered.

• Optional: Leave your name, email or phone number if you are willing to be contacted for more information.

• Offenders will receive a warning letter from the Iowa State Patrol.

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• The letter sends the message that people — like you — are watching for litter offenders and could help offenders consider their future actions.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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