The costs and benefits of Perry’s recycling system came up for discussion at Monday’s meeting of the Perry City Council, which was held via Zoom.
“I get so sick and tired of trying to go and put things in our waste dumpsters, our cans, our bottles, whatever,” Perry City Council member Chuck Schott said to his fellow councilors. “Those lids — and I understand why they’re bolted down. I understand the problems but, boy! for those of us who do things right and try to be careful, it is really a pain in the royal behind to have to take piece by piece by piece out of those things and find a hole that will slip in.”
Prompted by the collapse of the global market for recycling materials, the city ceased its system of curbside recycling collection in August 2018 and started a system of centralized drop off.
Chains were placed on the recycling dumpsters in August 2020 in order to prevent the lids from opening all the way. The purpose was to stop the open dumping of large items into the dumpsters.
When the recycling dumpsters were contaminated with garbage, appliances, furniture and other non-recyclable materials, they were rejected at the recycling center in Des Moines, and the entire load had instead to be taken to the landfill.
The chains have worked. Prior to placing the chains, the city was regularly hauling contaminated loads of recycling to the landfill. Since placing the chains on the dumpsters, contaminated loads have virtually disappeared.
The chains have also introduced inconvenience to the process. Schott said he recently found one of the roll-off recycling dumpsters unchained and felt an exhilarating sense of liberation.
“In that particular case, I was able to throw the lid back and dump it,” he said. “I wish there was something we could do that made it easier and better for normal, good citizens to have a way to efficiently and easily take their stuff there and get it put in the dumpsters.”
Schott’s comment were met with enthusiastic agreement from the other council members.
“I second that,” said third ward council member Barb Wolling. “I’ve talked to Josh about it, too, and it’s not good.” Josh Wuebker is the assistant director of the Perry Public Works Department.
“I’ve had people contact me, too,” said first ward council member Dean Berkland, “and I’ve gone down there, and you can’t get that open. It’s dumb to even have them if we’re going to have that kind of problem.”
Schott’s fellow at-large council member, Vicki Klein, said the wintertime makes recycling even harder.
“I’ve been down there also and have used them, and it’s hard,” Klein said. “In the winter, especially when it’s cold and the wind’s blowing, it even makes it worse, so I agree with you, Chuck, but I don’t know what the answer would be.”
Schott said a review of the dumpster chains might be in order.
“I don’t know what the answer is either,” he said, “but I think that maybe we should be looking into what maybe other cities have come up with. I’m not blaming anybody, because I do understand why we took it on and why we did it but, my heavens! I wish there were some way we could make it better.”
Perry Mayor John Andorf said he seeks the largest gaps into which he drops his items.
“I agree that when you can’t get the lids open, it’s a problem,” Andorf said, “but I’ve found that some lids open wider than others, so I look for those, and those are the ones that I use, to be honest.”
Second ward council member Dr. Randy McCaulley also shared a tip for using the recycling dumpsters.
“I use the recycling center every week,” McCaulley said. “I take a box, and I don’t break it down. I keep it intact. I take that box, and I put it in the opening, and it kind of pries the lid open a little bit more. So now I’ve got both hands that I’m able to chuck stuff in there with.”
All the council members agreed that McCaulley’s idea was a good one.
Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson said an assessment of the options for the roll-off recycling dumpsters was done last fall by Perry Public Works Director Jack Butler and Wuebker.
“The goal was to be able to actually take things to the recycling center and do what the intent of that is,” Peterson said, and the chained dumpsters have succeeded in eliminating contaminated recycling loads.
Butler noted the city pays a tipping fee of $37 per ton to dump garbage at the Metro Park West Landfill north of Perry. In contrast, it costs the city $100 for each ton of single-stream recycling materials that it disposes at International Paper in Des Moines.
“You’re trying to do the right thing,” he said, “and it’s costing you an arm and a leg to do it.”
Prior to the dumpster lock down, contamination was a chronic problem, Butler said.
“It’s been a little bit of everything,” he said. “We’ve had phone calls at city hall that someone threw an air conditioner in. We’ve had microwaves, glass windows. As long as they can get the lid open far enough to get it in there, it’s going. So that was why we did the chain deal.”
Illegal dumping still happens, Butler said, and he sees no easy way to eliminate it entirely.
“Just a couple of weeks ago,” he said, “somebody apparently bought all new furniture, and they took it to Pattee Park and dumped it where we dump our snow pile at, stacked it up there and just left it. So when somebody wants to get rid of something, they’re going to do what they want. If there’s nobody there babysitting it, it’s going to get trashed. That’s just human nature. It’s something we’ve fought for all the years we’ve done recycling. Even when we picked up at the curb, you would get to the house and pick up the blue bin and, heck, it’d be all junk. Then they’d call city hall and get just be steaming mad because we didn’t pick up their stuff. Well, that’s because it’s garbage, and we don’t accept it. So it’s tough. It’s tricky.”
Here are the official city rules for use of the recycling dumpsters:
Perry Residents bring their recyclables to the three drop-off locations around the city:
- at the lot east of the Public Safety Building
- at the main parking lot at the McCreary Center
- on the south side of the football field parking lot
Please note that the 8-yard containers at these locations are only for use by residents who have garbage service with the city of Perry.
The following items are accepted:
- Paper products: Newsprint, magazines, junk mail, cereal boxes, shiny inserts, paper egg cartons, twelve pack cartons, and paperback books. No waxy cardboard such as milk cartons.
- Plastic: Rinse out and remove labels. Painted labels are acceptable. Plastic grocery bags are not accepted but can be recycled at Hy-Vee.
- Metal Cans: Rinse out and remove labels. Cans do not need to be flattened. Painted labels are acceptable.
- Aluminum: Foil, pie plates, etc. Need to be clean.
- Glass, styrofoam and yard waste are not accepted!
Residents may also use a container located in the lot north of the Public Safety Building for disposal of cardboard. All cardboard must be broken down into flat pieces in order to be accepted.
Garbage of any kind will not be accepted and will be considered littering. Violators will be subject to a fine. All sites are equipped with cameras that monitor and record activity in the vicinity.
For more information, call the Perry City Hall at 515-465-2481.