Keokuk Pushing Recycling

Keokuk, IA – The "Go Green" movement has picked up a lot of steam in recent years over concerns about the environment, the planet, and climate change. Recycling is a popular way anyone can be part of that effort.

One Southeast Iowa community is not seeing that happen. Keokuk plans to get more people to separate those aluminum cans, glass bottles, and newspapers.

The E.P.A. says the United States produced 6% more garbage in 2007 than it did in the year 2000. Recycling in the United States increased 20% during that same time frame.

The numbers are quite different in Keokuk. Residential recycling fell 14%, last year, while the amount of garbage that went to the landfill jumped 16%.

Wade Hamm says this trend must be reversed. Hamm is General Manager of the Great River Regional Waste Authority.

The authority operates the landfill near Fort Madison and offers residential recycling. Hamm says the GRRWA accepts tin cans, cardboard, clear glass containers, newspapers, aluminum, and some plastics.

"We actually run it through a recycling line," says Hamm, "and Lee County Works participants actually sort it. Each individual picks out plastics, newspapers, and magazines and sort them into bunkers. Each pile is then baled and sold."

Hamm says the obvious reasons for recycling are that it keeps hazardous material out of the ground and it conserves vital natural resources. He says a more local reason may not be as obvious, money.

"In Lee County," says Hamm, "we have a $3,000,000 bond that is paid by everybody's property taxes. The longer we can make each cell last, the cheaper it will be in the long run. So if $3,000,000 will cover us for 20 years, that is great because we don't want it to only last ten."

Hamm says, excluding Keokuk, recycling in Lee County has remained steady or slightly increased in recent years. He says the GRRWA tries to make the process as easy as possible.

Materials are picked up in each city, 24-hour drop-off is available at the Fort Madison location, and there is no fee associated with recycling.

Teresa Kurtz says the easier the process, the better. "You have to have a simple program," says Kurtz, "and you have to make it easy for residents and businesses to recycle. You also have to be consistent in your programs and messages."

Kurtz is the executive director of the Iowa Recycling Association. She says more people in Iowa are recycling because it's now part of their daily lives.

Kurtz says cities and counties are tapping into that by placing recycling bins next to trash cans in parks or at large entertainment events. She says word of mouth is also helping.

"Some communities are doing this through door to door visits," says Kurtz, "and working with influential individuals, community leaders and neighborhood associations. They use presentations to local groups. I know that sounds very simple but it really makes a big difference."

Kurtz says cities like Keokuk can also encourage recycling by offering incentives.

Community Development Director Pam Broomhall says a committee of city employees is looking into that option to boost residential recycling. "One of the committee members brought up the idea of Keokuk Cash," says Broomhall, "having a drawing once a month for those who recycle and then award those people with Keokuk Cash."

Broomhall says fining people who do not recycle could also be an option. Keokuk currently offers curbside recycling every other week.

There are also bins behind the Keokuk Police Department and a drop-off site at the GRRWA's Keokuk transfer station. Efforts are also moving forward to obtain large recycling bins for residents.

Broomhall says with so many options available, the committee must do more than come up with ways to get people to recycle. "What we are really going to try to look at is what barriers," says Broomhall, "and why people are not recycling. We will try to get more education out to those people."

An educational opportunity will take place next week. A community-wide recycling event is scheduled for Thursday, October 8th at the Faith Family Church parking lot, from 7:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. in Keokuk.

The event is open to the public and will allow people to get their used paper, cans, and electronic waste into the hands of recyclers like Leisa McCredie.

McCredie and her husband, Jerry, own North Cedar South Recycling in Keokuk. The company works primarily with industries and schools from throughout the region.

Leisa McCredie says getting people to recycle comes down to repetition and awareness. She says, for herself, it took her owning a recycling business to become a good recycler.

"I was a terrible recycler," says McCredie, "I didn't recycle anything. I threw everything in the trash, like everyone else, because it was easier. Now I am like the recycle pester woman."

Organizers hope that the community-wide recycling event will have that type of impact on residents of Keokuk and the surrounding area.

It is unclear why Keokuk residents are throwing more recyclables into the garbage.

It could be the size of the new city garbage cans. It could be a lack of interest in recycling. It could be a one year anomaly that will correct itself this year.

Community leaders do not want to leave it to chance. That is why they are doing all they can to promote recycling in Keokuk and make it easier for residents, businesses, and industries to join the "Go Green" movement.