WATERLOO — Major changes in the recycling world could lead to much higher bills for city sanitation customers.
Waterloo Public Works officials unveiled a recommendation Monday for an $8 monthly curbside recycling and yard waste fee to be mandatory for the city’s 23,000 residential garbage customers.
“It’s not sustainable, what we’re doing right now,” said Public Works Manager Randy Bennett.
The plan would improve service by contracting with a national recycling firm, Republic Services, to collect cardboard, paper, plastics and cans twice each month in a dedicated recycling container, Bennett said.
The city currently charges $3 per month under its voluntary program used by approximately 11,000 households. City crews pick up curbside recycling once each month and use the same container for both yard waste and recyclables.
Meanwhile, Bennett said, a mandatory program that doubles the collection rate is projected to boost the amount of material Waterloo currently recycles from 500 to 2,000 tons each year.
“We want to divert more material from the landfill than we’re currently doing right now,” Bennett said.
The city has been forced to make a change in its curbside recycling program after no firms were willing to take the recyclables unless the city utilized a separate cart for yard waste. The current program created too much cross contamination that drove up costs and led to many loads of recyclables being landfilled.
International markets for the recyclable materials have declined, driving up processing and marketing costs.
The city’s previous contract with Cedar Valley Recycling to accept the curbside recyclables at its Waterloo processing plant expired in September, and the company stopped accepting Waterloo’s material in July.
Republic Services, which has a collection site in Cedar Falls and processing plant in Cedar Rapids, has been taking the material on a short-term contract costing roughly two times more than the previous Cedar Valley Recycling price.
Republic Services and Waste Management of Iowa submitted the only proposals to continue taking Waterloo’s recycling — including proposals to handle collection — but only if the yard waste and recycling are separated.
Public Works officials also recommended boosting the regular monthly garbage collection fee, which hasn’t been changed since 2002.
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Bennett noted garbage customers currently not using the recycling services could offset a mandatory recycling fee by switching to a smaller refuse container, which carries a smaller fee, and using the recycling program.
“Individuals instead of just throwing it away and having it go to the landfill can recycle it and see a savings there,” he said.
Bennett also said the proposed garbage, recycling and yard waste fees in Waterloo still compare very favorably to rates in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Cedar Falls, Dubuque and Iowa City.
“It’s still a pretty good bang for your buck,” he said.
Several City Council members said they supported the change and were ready to bring the matter up for a vote next week.
“I like this proposal a lot,” said Councilwoman Sharon Juon.
Councilwoman Margaret Klein added, “Time is of the essence.”
But Councilman Pat Morrissey said he wanted more time to evaluate the proposals and suggested the Public Works analysis was flawed.
“There’s not way, shape or form that I can support anything like this without getting my questions answered,” Morrissey said. “To me it’s a slap in the face of our hard-working people who pick up garbage right now.”
Bennett said city crews would continue picking up garbage and yard waste. There were no plans to lay off any city sanitation workers, who are behind currently on other duties, including code enforcement cleanups, Bennett said.
“We just don’t have the staffing to accomplish everything we need to do,” Bennett said. “Our users deserve better than what we’re currently able to give.”