Here you’ll find background information about the city council’s decision, why we think curbside recycling should be funded, and ways you can do your part by reducing your household trash & recycling. We think this is important for our community, so thanks for reading!
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Please note: Much of the information listed below was gathered by speaking off the record with city officials from Grinnell and surrounding communities, as well as recycling industry experts and operators. Please consider the figures used to be estimates, not set numbers. The city has not released official pricing on the new trash services rolling out in April 2019 or the costs if curbside recycling were to continue. Links to other valuable resources are listed if you’d like to know more. We will update the Supporting Information section when and if more information becomes available to us.
For many years the country of China has purchased bulk recycled materials from all over the world, including a large amount from the United States. They recently stopped accepting some materials entirely and the recycled materials they still accept must arrive to them with a very low level of contamination. U.S. recycled goods are unfortunately very contaminated, meaning a high level of non-recyclable goods (e.g. trash & food waste) are mixed in with the recyclables. This means China is accepting very few recycling shipments from the U.S.
Due to the past reliance on China accepting our recyclables, the U.S. does not currently have the infrastructure to process large volumes of recycled goods. As a result, the cost to the City of Grinnell to offload recycled goods has become more expensive than offloading trash. The speculation, and hope, by many is that an industry will arise in North America over the next few years to process recycling the way China was previously and the cost will then go down, or even become income generating. The end result will hopefully be much better. In the meantime, however, cities are having to decide what to do with recycling programs. In Grinnell's case, the City Council has voted to end curbside recycling but continue offering a central drop-off location for recycling.
WHY WE BELIEVE CURBSIDE RECYCLING SHOULD CONTINUE
We believe that despite the current period of increased costs for recycling, curbside recycling is still a service that residents of Grinnell deserve, it's valuable for Grinnell's clean image, and that it is the socially-responsible thing to do. Here's why we think that:
When curbside recycling ends, the quantity of items recycled is likely to drastically decrease. More things will end up in the landfill instead. Landfills must be monitored for sometimes hundreds of years while the materials slowly biodegrade.
Sending more material to landfills is a short-term solution with the long-term effect of passing on the burden to multiple generations to come. We don't think our great-grandchildren should have to deal with our waste.
Some households would be unable to continue recycling in the absence of curbside collection. We think those that are less mobile deserve the ability to recycle and not just throw things in the trash.
It would cost residents more to continue to enjoy curbside recycling services. This cost, however, would be partially offset by not needing as big of a trash container if you continue to recycle what you might have otherwise put in the trash in the absence of curbside recycling. While the city has not put out official numbers for trash or recycling, it's estimated that continuing curbside recycling would add an additional cost of $5 to $9 per month per household as opposed to only offering trash pickup services. By choosing a smaller size trash bin under the city's new trash collection system, you would partially offset the recycling cost to you. Therefore, your total trash+recycling bill might only increase by a few dollars per month as compared to what it would be if you only had trash service.
If your combined rent/mortgage, electricity, gas, and water bills each month total around $800, the recycling portion of your household expenses would be around 1% ($8). This doesn't include other monthly expenses such as internet, cell phone, property taxes, insurance, etc. For many households, the recycling fee would likely constitute less than 0.25% of monthly expenses. If you're able to use a smaller trash bin by having recycling, it's likely your extra cost for recycling versus trash only would make up less than 1/10th of 1% of your monthly household expenses. We understand and respect some households are on a limited budget. Still, the increased cost of recycling would make up a tiny portion of monthly household expenses and an even smaller portion of local government spending. We think the cost-benefit weighs heavily in favor of continuing curbside recycling. We think doing the right thing by not passing on our waste problem to future generations is worth less than a penny out of every dollar spent on household expenses. These numbers and percentages obviously will vary from household to household, however the overarching point is that the cost to continue recycling is a small drop in the bucket compared to other household expenses as well as city government expenses.
While many residents would still recycle at the drop-off facility, each household would be driving to the recycling facility separately. The time commitment, vehicle emissions, and fuel consumption of doing it this way would partially offset the benefit of recycling. It's inefficient. If the recycling expense ends up being $8 per month, that's $1.84 per pickup ($8 per month=$96/year. $96/52 weekly pickups=$1.84 per pickup). We believe the vast majority of people value their time, fuel expense, and extra vehicle wear & tear at greater than $1.84 per week.
It took a very hard-working group of community volunteers to start the recycling program in Grinnell. By ending curbside recycling, much of the progress of promoting recycling made over the last couple decades will be ended. If speculation is correct that recyclable goods will once again be valuable in the not-too-distant future, re-starting curbside recycling collection would be more of a challenge compared to if the program doesn't go away to begin with.
We think the City of Grinnell deserves a clean, responsible image not only in the eyes of current residents, but also for potential future residents thinking about making Grinnell their home. Many new potential Grinnell residents are employed by the various large corporations in Grinnell & Grinnell College, among other employers. Getting high quality applicants to choose Grinnell for their home is economically beneficial for the town. Even if someone accepts employment in Grinnell, how can the city encourage that person to actually live in Grinnell and not commute from elsewhere? A person is much more likely to spend money and support the local economy where they live versus where they work. Grinnell needs that economic stimulation to survive long-term in a world where many small towns are hurting. Surely having a curbside recycling program is a valuable component of someone choosing to live in Grinnell. For this reason, once again, eliminating curbside recycling is a short-term solution that is unproductive and economically damaging in the long-run.
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Be part of the solution!
While we think maintaining a curbside recycling program is valuable for the reasons listed above, your help is equally important! You can help the most by not producing as much material that needs sent to the landfill or recycled. In order to encourage a team effort between the city government and its residents, we think residents should do an equal part to minimize the expense of solid waste (trash & recycling) collection. Here are some considerations:
The biggest portion of the sanitation expense, especially in the case of recycling, is the transportation cost to get the material to the appropriate handling facility. If we as residents produce less, it's that much less waste needing to be transported to recycling facilities or to the landfill.
Take reusable bags to the store. Single-use plastic bags are not only wasteful, they also wreak havoc on recycling sorting equipment. They're one of the biggest contaminants in recycling, again increasing costs for everyone. In addition to larger bags for your groceries, smaller reusable bags can be used for produce and are inexpensive to buy.
Did you know that more food goes to the landfill than any other single material? (Source: EPA) Residents should consider composting all organic material (which doesn't have to be complicated.) It has the awesome side-effect of making your trash not stink! You can also produce fantastic soil for your plants or garden. What can't be composted can usually be put down an in-sink garbage disposal. While composting is best, even if you put all food waste through the garbage disposal it's better than putting it in the trash. Food waste in the trash must be handled, transported, and then monitored in the landfill, whereas "gunk" like food from the water treatment facility is used to fertilize fields.
It's important to make sure things you recycle are clean. Take the time to remove food waste. Food contaminants can make an entire batch of bailed recyclables unusable.
Make sure things you recycle are actually recyclable. Many people put items in recycling with the hope it can be recycled but aren't actually sure. This is called "aspirational recycling." This also contaminates the recycling stream and makes the whole process more expensive for everyone.
Residents should be open-minded to sorting their recycling and to different recycling pickup schedules. It wasn't that long ago it was normal to sort recycling. Because of decreased demand for certain types of recycled goods (mostly plastics), it might make sense for the city to go this route once again. Corrugated cardboard can still be sold if it's separated on its own, whereas the city must pay to offload mixed recycling. One idea (of many) would be for the city to rotate every other week picking up corrugated cardboard and then everything else. This ultimately is up to the city to decide, but residents should be supportive of the city if these changes would help keep curbside recycling.
Most new products come with a large amount of packaging, especially if purchased online. The first solution is to simply buy fewer things. Lots of studies show that buying more does not equate to increased happiness, but that's a whole different topic! If it's something you need, try to buy it used instead of new (via thrift shops, Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, etc.) If you must buy new, buying local reduces the amount of packaging as opposed to buying online (plus supports local businesses!) When buying food, remember the healthiest food is often the food with the least amount of packaging, so it's a win-win. In season, consider subscribing to a CSA share and shopping at the Grinnell Farmers Market (and take along your reusable bags.)
Last, but not least, we want to thank all the members of the Grinnell City Council for your hard work and service to our community. We understand tough decisions must be made sometimes. We want to be partners with you, not adversaries, in figuring out how curbside recycling can be a valuable, functional, and responsible component of the services the city provides.
If you haven’t signed the petition yet, please click here to SIGN!
Imagine Grinnell: Up-to-date local recycling news & tips
US Environmental Protection Agency: Recycling Facts and Figures
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Recycling Information
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Waste to Wealth Program
The Iowa Recycling Association: State Industry Association and Legislation
The Iowa Waste Reduction Center: Info on Food Waste, Hazardous Waste and More