The Lincoln City Council recently heard the good news about the first year of the city’s cardboard ban at the landfill.
The amount of corrugated cardboard at the city landfill has dropped by 76 percent in the past year, saving 239,360 trees, 30 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and 1.5 million gallons of gas.
The amount of cardboard going to the landfill has dropped by about 90 pounds per person, said Donna Garden, assistant director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities.
In 2017, cardboard made up 9.4 percent of the waste entering the landfill. Last year it made up just 2.4 percent, Garden said in a report to the City Council.
But good news on the recycling front also means city costs have risen as more people use the 29 public drop-off sites.
Both the amount of cardboard dropped off at city sites and the cost of running those sites has doubled, according to Garden.
The city expects to pay around $900,000 a year to Von Busch Refuse, the company that hauls away the recyclables left at the public sites, Garden said.
That would be almost double the annual cost of the service before the cardboard ban. “And it syncs with our projections that we would receive double the amount of cardboard at the sites after the ban,” Garden said.
The expense for hauling away recyclables is partially offset by the revenue from selling the material. That revenue has dropped though as processing companies pay less for the recyclable material because of changing markets.
The city received about $295,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2016-17, before the cardboard ban began. Based on last fiscal year (with a ban in place for five months), Garden expects annual revenue of around $217,000 for a full year with the ban in place.
And there's also savings associated with the cardboard ban expanding the life of the city's landfill.
Garden told the council she doesn’t know whether the ban will be expanded to other products.
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The cardboard ban originally was part of a broader proposal that would have eventually included all paper. But Mayor Chris Beutler could get council approval for only cardboard at the time.
Lincoln Transportation and Utilities staff are looking at what the next steps might be, Garden said.
The mayor, and the makeup of the City Council, will be changing in May, which could affect future landfill ban decisions.
And the two candidates for mayor offered differing opinions during a recent debate before members of the Lincoln Independent Business Association.
“I absolutely wouldn’t want to expand it at this time,” until we at least get what we are doing right, said Cyndi Lamm.
Lamm said she has more of a carrot, not stick, philosophy.
“I didn’t think we should have mandated recycling to begin with,” she said. “The reality is that having people voluntarily and willingly embrace some type of practice that is good for our environment is much better than having them mandated to do it at some kind of cost to them."
But Leirion Gaylor Baird said recycling “is the future.”
"Waste haulers were starting to offer curbside recycling service before the cardboard ban," she said.
She also said she would be “happy to work, in a bipartisan fashion, on expanding recycling.”
“I’m open to other items being diverted. I think it makes sense, but I want to look at the data,” she said.