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WATERLOO — The city may be forced to stop using a single container for its curbside recycling and yard waste collection program.

Growing problems with cross contamination between the two waste streams are driving up costs, causing safety concerns and making it nearly impossible for Waterloo to find recycling centers willing to accept the materials.

“Most if not all cities have separate cans for both,” Sam Barrett, sanitation operations supervisor, said. “It is pretty unheard of for a city to have the same can for recycling and yard waste.”

Public Works Director Randy Bennett added, “Realistically going from this point forward, it’s going to require separating the recycling and yard waste.”

Nearly 11,000 of the city’s 23,000 garbage customers use the curbside recycling and yard waste program the city started in 2003. The decision to use the 95-gallon blue carts for both waste streams was designed to be less costly. But the program relies on customers to be diligent about the schedule to keep yard waste out of recycling and to keep plastic, metal and paper out of the leaves and brush.

“When (city trucks) go to dump the cans it doesn’t necessarily mean everything comes out of it,” Bennett added. “That’s what a lot of the issue is. … Unfortunately it contaminates at both sites.”

Cedar Valley Recycling and Transfer currently accepts, sorts and markets the collected recyclables at a cost of $55 per ton. The cost jumps to $90 per ton when loads are contaminated, which cost the city $16,600 extra last year.

The situation came to a head in October when the city sought bids from recycling centers to take the material. Cedar Valley Recycling and Transfer did not submit a proposal, while a second company, Republic Recycling, only bid on the condition Waterloo switches to a single cart for recycling.

While Cedar Valley Recycling has continued to take Waterloo’s recyclables to date, Bennett said the lack of a formal agreement raises concerns.

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“Without a contract there is nothing that holds them from increasing the rate and/or not even taking the material,” he said. “They can just stop.”

Bennett and Barrett are recommending the City Council purchase new brown curbside carts for the recycling program and seek bids from private contractors to continue using blue containers dedicated to recyclables.

They also have proposed making the recycling program, which is currently voluntary at $3 per month, mandatory for all 23,000 garbage customers.

“This would not only help reduce the overall cost of the recycling program, it would also help reduce all the material that is going to the landfill,” Bennett said. “The more that we can recycle the longer the landfill is going to last.”

The proposal would keep the yard waste program voluntary.

The city could also switch two a two-cart recycling and yard waste program without hiring a private company to pick up the curbside recyclables. But Bennett said he preferred seeking a private contractor.

“Our goal wouldn’t be to reduce any staff,” he said. “We have a lot of needs in unmet areas at this time,” including a backlog of cart deliveries, code enforcement cleanups, compost site operation and cleaning up illegal dumping.

Changes to the curbside program do not necessarily affect the four drop-off recycling sites the city operates through a contract with Rite Environmental. However, a mandatory curbside program could allow the city to eliminate all or a portion of the drop-off sites, which currently cost garbage customers $70,000 annually.

Sanitation staff made the proposal during a work session to discuss next year’s budget. No timeline was set for a City Council decision on the matter.

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