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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Iowa City Landfill to prohibit cardboard in trash to reduce waste

By Erin Jordan, The Gazette | Dec 27, 2017

IOWA CITY — Johnson County residents with boxes to break down after the holidays should know that, as of Jan. 2, those corrugated cardboard boxes no longer will be allowed in the trash.

The Iowa City Landfill & Recycling Center hopes banning corrugated cardboard will divert more than 4,000 tons of bulky waste from the landfill each year into recycling markets, said Jennifer Jordan, city resource management superintendent.

“There are strong markets for cardboard and a lot of local markets,” she said, noting International Paper in Cedar Rapids is one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of corrugated packaging.

As an increasing number of Americans shopped online for the holidays and more retailers, including Target and Kohl’s, expanded free shipping opportunities, retailers were busy sending gifts hither and yon in corrugated cardboard, which has smooth sides and a rippled interior.

The Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency already bans corrugated cardboard from the landfill, with tipping fees doubled to $80 a ton when cardboard is landfilled.

Recycling cardboard has become more common in Johnson County, with flattened boxes allowed in curbside pickup and drop-off centers across the county, Jordan said.

Corrugated cardboard made up 3.2 percent of the waste at the Iowa City Landfill in 2017, down from 12 percent in 2011, she said.

“It’s gone down pretty significantly,” she said.

But there still was an estimated 4,500 tons of corrugated cardboard in the landfill in the recent waste characterization study.

Starting Jan. 2, trash loads with a discernible amount of cardboard will be charged double the regular tipping fee at the landfill. Haulers will be responsible for evaluating trash at the curb to see if it has noticeable cardboard, in which case it likely won’t be picked up, Jordan said.

“The hauler is the one to get fined,” Jordan said. “So there’s a pretty hefty financial incentive not to do that.”

Jordan and other landfill staff have been working with haulers across their pickup area, which includes all of Johnson County as well as Kalona and Riverside.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people they think it will be a challenge,” Jordan said.

The University of Iowa Sustainability office recently posted some of those concerns online.

“This could have a big impact on the UI, our costs of operation and what happens with recycling and trash in the buildings,” the post says. “We are working with Building Coordinators and campus stakeholders to create systems, solutions and educational material that will keep cardboard from entering the UI waste stream.”

One product of concern for the UI is pizza boxes.

“Although pizza boxes are recyclable, because of the greasy nature of the box bottoms, they will likely be exempted from the ban,” the UI notes.

The city concurs, asking residents to tear off the top of pizza boxes and recycle those, while tossing any portion of the box with food residue.

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