Government

For the first time in years, less trash comes to the Iowa City Landfill

The drop is the first in seven years, but will it become a trend?

Birds flock the area looking for food Tuesday as a crew works to compact and spread garbage at the Iowa City Landfill in
Birds flock the area looking for food Tuesday as a crew works to compact and spread garbage at the Iowa City Landfill in Iowa City. The waste stream coming in to the landfill dropped significantly between fiscal 2018 and 2019, the first decline in seven years. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — For the first time in seven years, the Iowa City Landfill has seen less garbage coming in. And it wasn’t a small reduction, either.

According to numbers provided by Jen Jordan, resource management superintendent with Iowa City, the landfill saw 127,587 tons of trash come in during fiscal 2019. That was 13,000 fewer tons than the same period the year before.

The last time the landfill saw a reduction in the tonnage of refuse coming in was fiscal 2012, when the 111,790 tons of trash represented a 5,000-ton decrease. The amount of trash coming into the landfill had grown each year — until now.

“I won’t call it a trend until we’ve seen it for a few years,” said Jordan. “I can’t say it’s a trend yet. I certainly hope it is. It’s certainly a good year for us.”

Located outside the city on Hebl Avenue, the 400-acre landfill has been in existence since 1971 and serves all of Johnson County, as well as Kalona and Riverside. It’s used by both residential and commercial haulers.

Joe Horaney, communications director with the Cedar Rapids-Linn County Solid Waste Agency, an intergovernmental agency that oversees the county’s landfill, reported the tonnage coming in has fluctuated in recent years. The landfill took in 183,638 tons in fiscal 2017, dropped to 180,803 tons in fiscal 2018 and then climbed to 202,304 tons in fiscal 2019, which ended June 30, according to statistics from Horaney.

Jordan said a number of factors contribute to the amount of trash coming into a landfill — ranging from natural disasters to the economy.

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“When people have more disposable income, they tend to buy more disposable stuff,” she said.

She attributes part of this decrease to “our efforts in improving, expanding and advertising our waste reduction, recycling and composting programs over the past few years.”

The landfill banned television and computer screens in January 2017 and corrugated cardboard in January 2018. That’s in addition to appliance, lead acid battery, oil, tire and yard waste bans that have been in place since 1989.

Two other initiatives have helped the waste reduction effort, Jordan said. In March 2017, the city added food waste to curbside collection and launched an awareness effort related to food waste collection in late 2017. In January 2018, the city transitioned to single stream recycling collection and introduced 65-gallon recycling carts.

Iowa City residents recycled 2,075 tons of material in fiscal 2019, Jordan said — a 25 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. In addition, 2,956 tons of yard waste were collected in fiscal 2019, a 72 percent yearly increase.

Iowa City is not the only Johnson County community trying to reduce waste. Nick Bergus, communications director for North Liberty, said the city has been offering curbside single stream recycling for more than a decade and also has done curbside yard waste pickup for several years. The city continues to innovate waste collection, which is done through a private contract with Johnson County Refuse.

Bergus said when the city decided to automate its trash and recycling pick up, it introduced 95-gallon recycling containers and three different trash collection options: a 35-gallon container picked up every other week, a 35-gallon container picked up every week or a larger, 65-gallon container picked up every week.

“It’s not one size fits all,” Bergus said.

Since residents pay based on those options, it gets them to think about how much waste they’re creating, Bergus said.

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Bergus said the city also thinks about what is going to wind up in the landfill when putting on public events. For the last three years, for example, all of the cups, plates, napkins and flatware used at North Liberty Blues and BBQ have been compostable.

“We’ve diverted more than a ton of trash through each of those festivals each year because we’ve required compostable serviceware,” he said.

The reduction in waste going into the landfill also fits Iowa City’s ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions with in the city as part of its recently declared climate crisis. A report written in conjunction with that declaration identifies waste as one of the focus areas for reducing carbon emissions.

According to the report, waste makes up only 2 percent of Iowa City’s emissions, but approximately 70 percent of the materials in the landfill have “recyclable or reusable properties and about 35 percent of materials are compostable organics.”

The city’s Climate Action Plan calls for reducing incoming waste at the landfill by 50 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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