Mar 9, 2023 - News

After complaints, clothing recycler pulls bins from Des Moines

A photo of a recycling bin.

This bin near 16th and Crocker streets at DSM's Edmunds Elementary is in the right-of-way of a bus drop-off lane, a zoning officer told city council members this week. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

A textile recycler has removed 13 collection bins in Des Moines following a string of violation notices from the city, he tells Axios.

Why it matters: The action could make recycling some items more of a pain, as DSM's residential recycling program doesn't accept clothing.

Yes, but: Multiple nonprofits already recycle textiles and some offer pickup services, Councilperson Member Linda Westergaard noted in a meeting this week.

Catch up fast: Clothes Bins —a national franchise of vivid green collection drop boxes — markets itself as a convenient way to divert clothing from the landfill.

  • The for-profit business makes money by selling the items to textile recyclers, making donations non-tax deductible.

Zoom in: Clive businessman Brad Burtnette began adding the bins to sites throughout central Iowa last year.

  • He shares some profits with nonprofits and schools that host the bins. That amounted to just over $12,100 for those groups, which Burtnette says went mostly to schools between May 2022 and last month.
  • He did not disclose his business' profits.

What's happening: The city treats these bins like waste collection receptacles under an ordinance that generally requires they be in a backyard.

  • At least 11 sites have been issued code enforcement notices from the city of DSM since June, according to information presented to the council this week.

Driving the news: City zoning officials this week provided the City Council with photos of a bin that was partially blocking a sidewalk and one with items laying on the ground.

  • Members then directed zoning enforcement officials this week to draft recommendations about better regulating the containers.

Of note: Code enforcement, which could include fines, is on hold while the city researches and considers the council's direction, Erik Lundy, a DSM zoning enforcement officer, said at this week's meeting.

What they're saying: Overflow problems are rare because the bins have sensors that alert to a needed pickup. They also have a phone number for people to report problems, Burtnette says.

  • Even so, some council members expressed concern that other recycling operators could launch similar programs. More specific regulations could help avoid future problems, they said.

State of play: Burtnette says his goal now is to grow the bin program outside of DSM.

  • Bins at eight DSM school sites remain because those are generally overseen by the district rather than the city.
  • Eight more schools have requested bins, he notes.
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