By Elianna Novitch
By the end of this year, all multifamily apartments and condominiums in Iowa City with more than four rental units will offer recycling to tenants.
The change follows the Iowa City City Council passing a regulation in November 2016 that mandated landlords and property managers provide recycling. The mandate is being enforced through rental permits, which must be renewed every two years.
“Iowa City, in general, has a very large multifamily population, and there has not up to this point been a law in place that says recycling is required for this housing,” recycling coordinator Jane Wilch said. “Because of that, there is a large population of residents who don’t currently have access to recycling other than our local recycling drop-off locations.”
Senior housing inspector Stan Laverman said there are 19,000 rental units in Iowa City and approximately 600 multifamily unit buildings’ rental permits are up for renewal this year.
“We are in the second year of [implementing recycling]. The first year was educational and a soft rollout of it,” Laverman said. “Starting in January, because of the ban on cardboard and additionally because we are not releasing any rental permit without the recycling facility being physically on site, we’re seeing an increase in compliance.”
The city banned cardboard from being disposed in the landfill on Jan. 2.
Iowa City also switched to single-stream recycling in December 2017. This change means recyclable materials — except for plastic bags and glass items — do not need to be sorted for curbside pickup.
Wilch said the goal of the changes is to make recycling more accessible and reduce waste.
“Iowa City wants to continue to increase diversion of recyclable materials into recycling programs and decrease what’s ending up in the landfill,” she said. “One thing a lot of folks don’t realize is how expensive it is to build and run a landfill. That makes it even more disappointing when we get recyclable materials in the landfill.”
While many are excited about the implementation of recycling at apartment buildings, concerns remain for local landlords.
“I think everybody likes recycling, but I don’t think people are happy that it’s mandated,” President of Greater Iowa City Apartment Association Chris Villhauer said. “It’s not that we don’t want people to recycle; it’s trying to educate a whole population of residents on recycling.”
He said the main concern he and many landlords share is contamination.
“If someone throws a glass jar or a bag of garbage in with [the recycling], all of a sudden, the whole thing is contaminated,” he said. “The trash haulers won’t take it as recycling, they have to collect it as trash. I know one trash hauler whose contamination fee is $255.”
Education will be the key in getting residents to recycle correctly in order to avoid higher costs, he said.
“There is already an additional cost for doing recycling, and then if that gets contaminated, you’re spending even more,” Villhauer said. “I think recycling is great, and I think it should be done for future generations but to mandate it is tough.”
According to a city pilot-program study in 2012, recycling costs ranged from $40 per month per complex to $312 per month. The per-unit monthly cost ranged from $1.88 to $3.33 per month. On average, this equated to $2.57 per month per household for recycling.
Wilch said she believes that the implementation of recycling has been successful so far.
“The big piece that we’re wanting to connect with apartment companies is that there is outreach and education in place because tenants have been used to not having recycling,” Wilch said. “So, with having recycling service added, we want to make sure tenants know that this service is available to them and what it means to recycle.”