Oct 7, 2021 - News

Des Moines revokes more than 100 residents' recycling privileges

A photo of trash in a recycling totter.

Ummm ... you know better. Photo courtesy of DSM Public Works director Jonathan Gano

Recycling privileges for at least 136 Des Moines homes have been revoked this year because of "abusive" behavior, Jonathan Gano, the city's Public Works director, told us.

  • Residents tried to recycle prohibited items, such as car parts, appliances and paint cans, and after two written warnings, the city took their blue totters away. (Third strike, you're out.)

Why it matters: Ignorant or malicious recyclers cost the city tens of thousands of dollars a year in extra disposal costs, Gano said.

  • Contamination devalues or ruins tons of materials that would otherwise be sold in bulk and repurposed.

State of play: DSM launched spot checks in 2018 due to a high rate of contamination in its recycling. The checks were expanded last year using GPS-tagged photos to document violations.

  • To help educate violators, the city puts "oops tags" on totters with unacceptable recyclables. (Those in full compliance get "super recycler" tags.)
  • Most households correct their mistakes before their totter is removed, Gano said.

Of note: None of the banned recyclers have asked for forgiveness or for the return of their blue totter, Gano said.

  • They'd get another chance if they showed interest, he said.

Context: Residents don't pay extra to recycle in Des Moines. It's considered voluntary and included in monthly trash collection fees.

  • Naughty recyclers could face $25 misdemeanor fines, but DSM hasn't resorted to that option yet.

Be smart: Most of the violations are due to "wishful recycling," Gano said.

  • Loose plastic bags and pizza boxes are the most common problems.
  • Tip: Never bag your recyclables because it prohibits an automatic sorting machine from doing its job.
  • Check out our checklist on what you can and can't recycle.

What's next: Expect more educational efforts in coming months, Gano said.

A map showing homes that lost recycling due to violations in Des Moines.
These are the homes that lost their recycling privileges this year. Map courtesy of the city of Des Moines

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