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Mayor Chris Beutler

Mayor Chris Beutler

Picture 125 blue whales, the largest living animal on our planet. Their combined weight would be about 19,000 tons -- the same weight as all of the corrugated cardboard Lincoln residents sent to the landfill in 2017 alone.

Starting April 1, that will change. Corrugated cardboard will no longer be accepted at the landfill for disposal. A new educational campaign called Take it to the Bin encourages residents to recycle cardboard instead of throwing it away. Lincoln will be the first community in Nebraska to take this major step toward a more sustainable future.

Corrugated cardboard now makes up 9.5 percent of the material garbage collectors take to the landfill, making it the single largest recyclable material that we throw away. Cardboard is in such high demand by paper mills that more than $2.3 million could have been injected into Lincoln’s economy if that cardboard had been recycled in 2017. At least 35 new jobs could have been created to collect and process that cardboard.

Many people in Lincoln already recycle cardboard. They use the convenient recycling drop-off sites all over town at no charge. Or they subscribe to one of the curbside recycling services offered by every waste collector in Lincoln.

If you don’t yet recycle cardboard, the city offers many resources to help you get started at recycle.lincoln.ne.gov. At that site, you’ll find FAQs, multilingual resources, a map of public recycling drop-off sites and tools for apartment dwellers and managers to best comply with this new law.

Those who choose not to recycle will not face any fines. But your garbage collector will not be allowed to deposit your cardboard in the landfill. Collectors may charge additional fees to those who put recyclable cardboard in their garbage.

Residents are already used to the state law that bans yard waste from the landfill from April 1 to December 1. Other items banned from the landfill include vehicle tires and batteries and hazardous waste.

Several communities in neighboring states have added cardboard to that list, including Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Vermont also ban cardboard from the landfill.

Recycling benefits more than just households. About half of the waste taken to the landfill comes from Lincoln’s commercial and institutional buildings. While the city’s recycling drop-off sites keep recycling affordable for households, our private collectors provide a wide range of services to fit a company’s needs. Businesses may also arrange to take recyclables directly to recycling processors. Incentives and grants exist for the commercial sector, including the Waste Reduction and Recycling Assistance program, which offers up to $750 in rebates for new or expanded commercial programs.

Businesses that have already adopted effective waste reduction and recycling programs find that they can conserve business resources and minimize costs. Customers and employees are becoming more interested in a sustainability culture that drives their work and purchasing habits. The city is recognizing local businesses that are recycling through the Recycle Lincoln Leadership Recognition Program.

While Lincoln is a national leader in many areas, recycling is not one of them. This one change -- keeping cardboard out of the landfill -- will be a huge leap forward in meeting our community’s goal of increasing the city’s recycling.

Don’t wait until April 1. Take it to the bin now. Recycling cardboard is one simple way we can leave a cleaner and greener Lincoln for future generations.

Chris Beutler is mayor of Lincoln.

Recycle Lincoln Ambassadors, Lincoln Solid Waste and Recycling Association and several recycling companies were also involved in producing this column.

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