Closing the Gap: Iowa’s Effort to Recycle is Hampered by a System That Favors Dumping

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.

State’s Largest Landfill A Huge Expanse in Central Iowa

Reo Menning is giving a reporter a tour of Metro Park East Landfill, Iowa’s largest landfill and looking over the expanse when she brings up the fact the they are standing on 30 feet of compacted garbage. That’s the result of taking in 1,700 tons of waste each day during the six days the landfill is open each week, for a grand total of almost half a million tons of waste annually from fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2012. For perspective: that is a little more than 17 percent of the state’s waste. “What we receive can vary day to day and is affected by seasons,” said Menning, public affairs director for the Metro Waste Authority that runs the huge landfill, whose 1,800 acres could hold 2,380 football fields. Garbage is dumped in about 500 of those acres.