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Recycling spikes in Quad-Cities because cans, bottles aren't going back to store
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Recycling spikes in Quad-Cities because cans, bottles aren't going back to store

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The amount of residential recyclable material coming to the Scott Area Recycling Center has jumped 20-22% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic because residents are generating more containers.

Two likely reasons: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' suspension of the requirement that stores take back glass bottles, aluminum cans and plastic pop bottles for their nickel deposit until further notice. Rather than let them pile up, residents are putting them in their recycling bins. And, people are cooking more at home, buying and using containers that can be recycled. 

Kathy Morris, director of the Waste Commission of Scott County, said she also was seeing other "interesting numbers" since the start of the pandemic and corresponding changes in people's habits as they sheltered in place.

The demand for mixed paper, for example, is way up. At present the recycling center is selling baled paper to processors for $27.25 per ton, compared with just $2.25 in February, she said.

Why the increase in demand?

"Just think about it," Morris said. "More people are at home, they are using more paper. They are using more paper towels because they are doing more cleaning. And toilet paper. That's literally part of it."  

In addition, restaurants are using more paper to package up take-out meals, she said.

Overall, changes during the pandemic have made the challenged recycling business more profitable. Although this trend won't necessarily continue forever, Morris and her co-workers are, as she says, "very happy."

'Profitability': In total, the Scott center picks up and processes nine different recyclable materials from Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island, Moline, East Moline and Scott, Rock Island and Clinton counties, as well as other areas.

This month (May), the center is receiving $66.12 per ton for these recyclables when all nine are added together and averaged out. This compares with $46.16 in January, Morris said.

Recycling (collecting and selling) always has been less expensive than landfilling (collecting and paying 'tipping' fees) in Scott County, even through the darkest days. These began in January of 2018 when China — by far the biggest buyer of U.S. recyclables — stopped accepting mixed paper and most plastics, causing a glut of material no one wanted.

Scott Area Recycling always held its own, but now the ratios are better.

The cost to recycle, including collecting, sorting, baling and transporting of all materials was $80 per ton as of February. Subtracting the amount received in sales, the May cost to recycle is about $15 per ton versus $30 per ton to landfill, Morris said.

Here's a look at some of the numbers:

• In Davenport, Bettendorf and drop-off centers in Scott County, the collection of No. 1 PET plastic, such as pop bottles, is up 14%, aluminum is up 45% and glass is up a whopping 80%, Morris said The latter is largely attributable to beer, wine and liquor containers.

Increases also have occurred in other communities the Scott center processes for.

• The amount of "bulky waste" coming to the landfill also is up significantly, Morris said — 25% overall for Bettendorf and Davenport.

People are home and cleaning out their basements and garages, she said. 

• The increase in recycling does not include the growing amount of asphalt shingles coming to the landfill. That is happening because of an April hailstorm that damaged roofs, causing a need for tear-off and replacement.

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