Many small Iowa communities no longer can afford to maintain their local dumps when faced with increasing regulation and permitting fees by the EPA and Iowa Department of Natural Resources. That has forced new ways of thinking about waste management.
Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources sampled trash from 10 landfills and five transfer stations across Iowa for a study published in December 2017, looking to answer the question, “What are Iowans landfilling?” Tom Anderson, of the Iowa DNR’s Land Quality Bureau and the study’s project manager, has an answer to that question.
The Environmental Management System, or EMS, was seen as an alternative to relying simply on giving credits to Iowa landfills that serve as incentives for accepting fewer tons of garbage. But adoption of this approach has been slow.
A promising new program may be the key to pushing Iowa’s landfills into action that decreases the environmental impact of their operations. The program, called Environmental Management System, or EMS, focuses on six specific ways to reduce what we dump into the ground as waste. But participation in the program, which signifies a switch from an outdated planning process that only credits landfills for diverting materials from landfills, has been slow. Only nine of Iowa’s 50 landfills have enrolled, an IowaWatch investigation revealed. That may have to change soon because landfill operators are under increasing government pressure to reduce negative environmental impacts.
Farm belt state struggles in shift to recycling
More than half of what Iowans dump into landfills could have been recycled or composted. In some areas, that amount is as high as 75 percent, landfill operators said. An IowaWatch investigation revealed that the gap between tons dumped into the ground and tons recycled at Iowa’s top five waste agencies is widening. And unless something changes, it’s set to stay that way because of a lack of available recycling programs, the way recycling and landfill programs are funded by the state, and poor record keeping. Reo Menning, public affairs director with the Metro Waste Authority located near Mitchellville, explains bluntly: “If recycling doesn’t happen, landfills will fill up faster, and the cost for garbage will go up.”
Colors denote intensity of tonnage in fiscal year 2012.
Four of every five households in Iowa City, a city with an aggressive recycling program, do not have access to curbside recycling. The availability of residential recycling gets even smaller where curbside service is not available. “Compared to the number of trash Dumpsters, the number of recycling Dumpsters is pretty small. I would say it’s less than 10 percent,” Jen Jordan, recycling coordinator at the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center, said. Jordan blames this on people not wanting to pay private garbage haulers the extra cost for recycling services when haulers offer the services.