Recycling Program FAQs

Why is Shamrock Recycling no longer providing service?

The City and Shamrock entered into a 9 month agreement effective January 1, 2020 which allowed residential and commercial recycling to continue as it had for many years.  That agreement would have automatically renewed indefinitely unless either party wanted to discontinue.  One of the issues at that time was the recycling containers at the City public works facility.  Originally those were placed there to help with the County’s need for a recycling option for county residents, but they had also come to be used by Spirit Lake residents and businesses rather than putting recyclables curbside or arranging for commercial recycling through Shamrock as originally intended.  Shamrock identified the costs of those plastic and tin containers remaining.  The County decided not to contribute to the ongoing availability of those containers.  As a consequence, those containers had to be removed and Shamrock and the County made other arrangements for providing recycling for county residents.

Just a few months into the new agreement, Shamrock initially tried to discontinue service effective June 30, 2020 and later agreed it was required to provide service through the guaranteed ending date of September 30, 2020, but made it clear that it was done as of September 30, 2020 and would no longer provide services.  

Where are the cardboard containers? 

The City continued to leave the cardboard containers as a convenience, but the use of those containers, mostly by nonresidents of the City of Spirit Lake, including out of state folks, continued and was being subsidized by City of Spirit Lake taxpayers and was an issue that needed to be addressed at some point in time.  They are now unavailable because Waste Management is entitled to the cardboard material and it needs to be directed curbside or to commercial containers.  There is no other outlet for it, so absent the new agreement, if the containers were left in place, they would continue to be used by nonresidents and all of the cardboard would be headed for the landfill.

Can the City simply not provide any recycling services?

No.  Iowa law requires the City outline a recycling program and suggests that it should be both mandatory and curbside as part of the rules and regulations designed to reduce the volume of solid waste ending up in landfills.

Why is the City using Waste Management as the recycling provider?

In a nutshell, Waste Management was the only real option available on such short notice and without having to discontinue recycling altogether for an extended period of time.  Waste Management had a solid track record of providing service to Okoboji and Milford and having those other communities in the area involved allowed reasonable rates and was convenient for Waste Management to arrange pickup in Spirit Lake.

Recycling here has finally entered the 21st century with single stream recycling that users will find easier and convenient.  Recycling no longer has to be sorted into three different groups.

On the residential side of things, it would cost taxpayers substantially more than the $6.10 per month Waste Management is charging for an alternative recycling program (see discussion below). Residential participation hasn’t been anywhere near what it should be overall and there has really been no great incentive in the past for residents to recycle.

On the commercial side, there are more options for businesses and especially options for smaller businesses that were not available under Shamrock.  Commercial participation has decreased dramatically and steadily under Shamrock and it is expected to increase with the options available under Waste Management.

Why isn’t the City providing recycling itself with City employees and resources?

Because it is cost prohibitive and would cost taxpayers far more than having the service provided by Waste Management.  The City would have to construct its own transfer station, invest in additional and expensive sanitation trucks, hire several additional employees, etc. Conservatively, a bond issue (additional debt) of well over $1 million would have been needed if the City was to invest in the resources necessary to start what would essentially be a recycling business and there would also be permanent and guaranteed increases in payroll and City operating expenses that would guarantee large increases in sanitation fees.  The foregoing is all before considering where the materials would have gone, how the City would have or could have arranged transportation, and related to all of that the uncertainties of any return given the continuing and negative issues with recycling markets.  So, more costs than the taxpayers should reasonably be expected to bear vs. uncertain return on the investment (the City would have made no money selling the recyclables and would have had to pay someone to haul them away).

Why can’t I “opt out” of the recycling program?

The program would not work if individuals could simply choose not to recycle.  Waste Management would not provide the service if all households weren’t required to participate – there would be too much risk and too little return for providing the service.  Hypothetically, if Waste Management agreed to allow people to opt out, it would result in much higher rates being charged for people who want to recycle.  The likely effect of that is much lower participation by people who want to recycle and eventually no recycling. Recycling demand is sensitive to price just like any other service. The other effect is more waste going to the landfill, resulting in inevitable increases in sanitation costs and fees for taxpayers.  The City provides law enforcement services – people can’t simply choose to “opt out” their house from law enforcement protection for personal reasons and claim reductions in property tax.  Individuals can’t “opt out” of a prorated share of their property taxes because they happen to own a lake home they may only visit a few weekends a year, or “opt out” of a street assessment because they claim to use the street less than their neighbors.  Utilities and other public goods and services require certain minimum investment and charges and require all who have the opportunity to use the service to share in the cost. 

The overall cost of the recycling program falls on all the property owners, again, Iowa requires a recycling program and the law wants it mandatory and curbside. Allowing some to “opt out” simply discriminates against and increases the costs to others, and would eventually doom the recycling program.

I’ve never recycled and don’t want to, will the City take away this container?

We request you give recycling a try if you haven’t been practicing it.  Now that recycling is single stream it is easy to do.   Most people greatly underestimate the amount of recyclable material they generate, and whether the container has a little or a lot in it, it just needs to be set out every other week on Friday and will be emptied.  Participating in recycling is the one significant way that taxpayers can significantly reduce future costs and fees related to sanitation, and preserve our access to our local landfill for a longer period of time.

Understanding that you can’t “opt out” of the program, if you absolutely don’t want the container, you may contact City Hall after November 1 and the City will make arrangements for you to arrange a time to have it picked up.

A New Challenge!

We are all caught at this point in time, and have been for some time, in the conflict between the need to keep solid waste from filling up landfills (which are a finite resource) and the fact that recyclables haven’t held their value or their promise as an industry, with some, like glass, basically now having no value compared to many years ago.

All of the jurisdictions in the area and across the State and the country are facing a lot of tough choices with the current state of recycling and not very many cost effective options, and what works for one jurisdiction doesn’t necessarily work for another.

This is the only and best option we have at the current time and hopefully we’ll see increases in participation and long term positive results.