The city of Grinnell is reexamining its recycling program after finding it has almost become too popular. Grinnell City Manager Russ Behrens says the idea was slow to gain popularity when recycling started in 1990 — but now the supply is exceeding the demand.
“It’s created this panacea that you can consume as much as you want as long as you recycle it,” Behrens explains. “What we’re learning is that’s an absolute myth.”
The recycling program was started to reduce the amount of material in landfills and help make a little money on the side by selling the recyclable materials. But Behrens says selling the recyclables has become difficult.
“We collect this recyclable material, tens of thousands of other cities do too. There’s a glut of this material on the market, there’s no one that wants it, the uses for it are diminishing. The overseas markets are vanishing and only getting worse because of some of the tariff issues that are being discussed right now,” Behrens says. Not only does the city have to pay recyclers to take the material, it has to pay to ship it as well.
“Now we’re talking about the expense transporting that material exceeding the cost of throwing it away in the landfill by at least 15 dollars a ton,” according to Behrens. “So, now it’s really flipped in that it is becoming more expensive to recycle than it is to landfill it.” Behrens says the city will shift the focus from recycling to reducing the amount of garbage generated.
“What we’re going to spend the next year or so doing is really working with people to find ways to reduce the amount of solid waster we are generating. Unfortunately recycling really took the focus and we maybe moved away from the reduction piece,” Behrens says. The city already doesn’t take glass and shredded paper in the recycling bins. Other changes in handling garbage and recycling may be implemented next year.