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Recycling is changing in Webster City

December 4, 2023

Today, a new era of recycling begins in Webster City, and you get to use that new 64-gallon green (with blue lid) recycling cart delivered to your home by The Trash Man recently.

The old, green bin is yours to keep and use as you wish, but from now on only the new carts can be used for recycling. The Daily Freeman Journal sat down with Trash Man General Manager Chris Kehoe to learn how curbside recycling will change in Webster City.

Read on to learn what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to improve your own recycling efforts.

Curbside recycling began in Webster City April 1, 1992, with only No. 1 plastics (milk jugs), No. 2 plastics (dark plastic bottles), newsprint, metals, and clear glass accepted.

A year later, The Daily Freeman Journal reported 1.1 million pounds were collected the first 12 months of the program; that is about 12 pounds per resident. Neil Wright, then-recycling coordinator for The Trash Man, told the paper, “we’re seeing a good response; people are working at this.”

From that time to this, residents put recycling in small, green, open-top bins.

Today, Webster City joins a nationwide trend of “single-stream recycling” that began more than 30 years ago in larger cities, and is now moving into smaller cities, and rural areas.

How does it work?

From now on, Webster Citians will put all recyclables in one bin (see the list of accepted materials below) and wheel the bin to the curb, positioning it with wheels facing your house. A new truck, specially equipped for automated collection, stops next to the cart, extends squeezer-arms to lift the cart, and tip its contents into the truck. It’s all done by one person who never leaves the cab of the truck. Previously, two employees were required to pick up recycling: a driver and a sorter.

Kehoe explained single stream is now the “industry standard in recycling,” saying “it’s a pure labor cost and efficiency situation.”

The Trash Man’s new contract with the city, which began September 5, 2023, and runs five years, requires once a week collection of recycling, weekdays between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. — the same day trash is collected — for all residences in Webster City.

Note: Recycling is not collected on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day. Residents whose collection falls on one of these holidays, will have it collected the following business day.

The Trash Man charges the city $3.50 per month, per residence, for this service. The city bills residents — defined as everyone with a utility meter — $3.75 per month on utility bills.

The city has no thought of profiting from recycling; the over-charge pays for “write-offs” — residents who don’t, or are unable to, pay their utility bills.

In addition to residential collection, the contract requires The Trash Man to maintain “a recyclable container designed and constructed specifically for drop off of recyclable materials.” This facility, on East Ohio Street near the City of Webster City Street Department offices and garage, is emptied, on average, every 10 days, according to Kehoe.

The multiple-year contract means The Trash Man can justify the considerable outlay necessary to make the conversion to single-stream recycling. The firm spent $285,000 for a 2022 Mack LR truck, with automatic side loading equipment, and more than $250,000 for 3,500 new 64-gallon green plastic recycling carts. The carts cost The Trash Man $70 each, and one has been supplied to each of the 3,500 residences in Webster City, free of charge.

Where does it go?

A common question, according to Kehoe, is where does recycled material go?

After collection in Webster City, The Trash Man must then market what has been collected to other firms, some of which further process the materials, and some of which aggregate material into larger lots to sell onward to other companies. These include Waste Management, Inc., Des Moines, the world’s largest trash and recycling company; Quincy Recycling, Quincy, Illinois, which specializes in newsprint and plastic recycling; and Republic Services, Cedar Falls. Most Webster City recyclable material, though, finds its way to the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency, in Fort Dodge. Despite its name, the agency also recycles materials in Webster and nearby counties.

A key factor in selling recycled materials is the amount of contamination in the final product. This is one of Kehoe’s biggest concerns in the switch to single-stream.

“We’re making it easier for Webster Citians to recycle versus our previous system. All they have to do is put everything in one cart. It’s bigger, it’s got a lid to keep the load intact, and wheels make it easier to move,” he said.

So far, so good, but there will inevitably be a learning curve as the new carts go into service. Consumers must understand no trash can ever be put into the blue-topped carts. That would contaminate not only the recycled materials, but the cart itself.

“For trash, we have an identical cart with a green top,” Kehoe said. If you pay Trash Man to haul your trash, you’ll get two carts; one for trash; the other for recycling.


Transport is another factor. It’s not economical to move small loads of recyclables, so a minimum load of 40,000 pounds — 20 tons — must be accumulated before it can be loaded into a truck. At present, it takes two to three months to accumulate residential plastic recycling in Webster City to amass such a load.

In the meantime, The Trash Man must store it in its Webster City yard or recycling center.

The Trash Man also has industrial and commercial customers. Prestage Foods, Hy Vee, Fareway, Kwik Star, and local restaurants all rely on twice-weekly pick-ups to haul away their recycling.

When asked how many people in Webster City recycle today, Kehoe estimated it at about 40%.

A number of cities have seen impressive, double-digit gains in citizens participating in recycling after implementing single-stream recycling, but also, usually, increased contamination. Convenience-crazed Americans find single-stream recycling easier and faster, but in the end, someone, somewhere along the chain must separate plastics, papers, metal and glass.

Larger cities, and some recycling firms, operate sophisticated, automated recycling plants called material recovery facilities. These employ a combination of expensive, very sophisticated machinery, and large numbers of human sorters to do the job. Such facilities cannot exist without a large, steady stream of recyclable material, and ready markets for clean, bundled recycling.

Costing millions of dollars to build, they aren’t yet a viable solution in small, rural markets like Webster City or Fort Dodge.


View this article as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.

Last modified: December 4, 2023

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