Iowa City prepares for no-sort curbside recycling

Staff hopes 'single stream' concept increases participation

Iowa City recycling coordinator Jane Wilch. (City of Iowa City)
Iowa City recycling coordinator Jane Wilch. (City of Iowa City)

IOWA CITY — The city next month will introduce a “single stream” recycling system — meaning residents no longer must sort their curbside recycling.

Iowa City’s recycling coordinator, Jane Wilch, explains what will and won’t change for recycling starting Dec. 4.

Q: How is the city’s curbside recycling program currently set up?

A: Essentially what we do now is (that) just paper products have to be separate. ... And the paper products, you can stick in a paper grocery bag to separate out if you do use one bin. ... Otherwise the other option we have currently is a two-bin system, where there’s paper in one bin and then the rest in the other bin. ... Basically, the reason why switching over, there’s a few benefits to this. No. 1, it’s going to be an easier program so you won’t need a two-bin system any more — so if you can fit all your recycling in one bin, that’s perfectly fine, and there’s no sorting required. So all the materials will stay the same and you can stick them all in one bin. And typically because this is an easier program, communities have seen increased participation.

Q: Are there still common household items that can’t be recycled curbside?

A: One thing, in terms of the education and outreach that we’re doing with this switch to single stream, is that we’re really trying to emphasize that the materials that are currently accepted with the curbside program, with the sorting, all the materials are staying the same. So that means that we still do not allow glass or plastic bags to be in your curbside recycling container.

Q: What sparked the switch to a no-sort curbside recycling system?

A: This is something that we’ve been evaluating for a few years now and we keeping coming back to it to see, in terms of financial costs, if we’re at a place that it financially makes since. And then also from a refuse perspective, just looking at when equipment is up to be turned over, we’re up, for example, to buy new recycling trucks. ... Overall what we’re really trying to move toward with the city of Iowa City is continuing to look at our goals for minimizing waste and reducing what’s going into the landfill. And so looking at this program as an opportunity to increase the tonnage that’s going toward recycling versus what’s going in the landfill was very compelling.

Q; Does the city need to purchase new equipment to handle the switch?

A: In terms of the current recycling trucks that we have, our staff are actually out and they’re helping to sort the bins with our current system, so sorting the cardboard, separate from the plastic, separate from the metal, etc. And with the new system we no longer have to do that sorting. Everything in the bin that’s already mixed can go in the truck mixed as well. There’s still going to be some handling at the curb in terms of the blue bins that we currently have. We’re going to continue to use those so staff are still going to be out at the curb picking those up to dump them. But it is a different style of recycling truck and at some point in 2018 we are going to be handing out a new style of container for recycling for Iowa City residents. And with that it’s going to be a little bit easier at the curb as well because it’s the type of recycling bin where you can actually have an automatic arm that goes out of the truck and picks up the bin. ... We’ve purchased a number of new trucks.

Q: Are there any downsides to single stream recycling?

A: Traditionally, communities that are new to single stream have seem a slight increase in contamination of materials. So along with that, while there are many benefits to switching to single stream, we are very mindful of the fact that sometimes there is a contamination issue. And so to mitigate that and to address the issue of contamination we are going to be monitoring curbside bins just to see how we’re doing with the switch-over ... (Contamination is) basically anything that is not considered an acceptable material in the curbside program. So that could be things like garbage, things like Styrofoam. We don’t want organics in your recycling bin ...

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