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WATERLOO — City leaders were unable this week to chart a course for the city’s foundering recycling program.

Waterloo City Council members deadlocked Monday over a proposal from sanitation staff to make the curbside recycling mandatory and hire a private company to pick it up.

“We’re literally kicking the can down the road,” said Mayor Quentin Hart as council members voted to delay action for one week.

Recycling companies have told the city they will no longer accept and sort its curbside plastic, cardboard, paper and cans unless the city stops using a single container for both recyclables and yard waste.

Public Works Manager Randy Bennett has recommended a bid received from Republic Services to both collect and process the recycling, which he said would be cheaper than having city crews continue to operate the program.

His recommendation would also make the program mandatory for all of the city’s roughly 23,000 households, which would ultimately use a green can for garbage, blue can for recycling and brown can for yard waste.

But the plan drew heavy opposition from residents who currently recycle voluntarily at free drop-off locations and don’t want the added cost of the curbside program.

“I don’t want anybody to tell me that I have to have a blue barrel, that I have to recycle,” said Jim Chapman.

Resident Michael Bayer also urged council members to reject the plan.

“The proposal would lead to three cans,” he said. “I think that would be a problem. It certainly would be a problem for me, where to put those.”

Two residents showed up to support the plan.

“We should all carry our obligation and share in the cost of doing it,” said Renata Sack. “We cannot afford to fill our landfill with more junk than it’s already receiving.”

Margaret Whiting added, “Cities across Iowa and across the whole planet have formed already good recycling programs, and Waterloo should too.”

Council members Sharon Juon, Jerome Amos Jr. and Margaret Klein said they supported the mandatory, privatized curbside plan, while council members Steve Schmitt and Bruce Jacobs said they wanted the program to be voluntary.

Councilman Pat Morrissey said he didn’t like the mandatory proposal and was strongly against hiring a private company to handle curbside collection.

“I’m opposed to any kind of privatization of a public service,” Morrissey said. “This is half baked. This is not a good use of taxpayer money.”

Councilman Ray Feuss said he was also troubled by outsourcing the service and made the motion to put off the vote for a week.

The issue is complicated when it comes to funding due to numerous factors.

A key question with a voluntary curbside program is whether the 11,000 households using the service now would keep it if the price was boosted from $3 to $8 per month. If too many households drop the service at that price it could steer more material at the landfill.

“The more than we can divert, the better off we’re going to be,” Bennett said. “Because we’re going to pay for it one way or another.”

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