‘This drop-off stuff works wonderfully’: City survey shows more people are dropping off more recycleable materials

HyVee recycling site

The recycling site at the Hyvee grocery store at 1400 Harrison. | David Adam

QUINCY — The city of Quincy’s drop-off recycling program is now a year old, and Quincy Mayor Mike Troup is thrilled with the results.

“When I go and drop off (recyclable materials), I get people every other week who see me and say, ‘You know, I wanted to keep curbside. But I’ve got to tell you, this drop-off stuff works wonderfully,’” Troup said during a Thursday interview previewing his State of the City address, which he delivered on Friday at the Elks Club to the Quincy Service Club.

The Quincy City Council voted in September 2022 (with Troup casting the tie-breaking vote) to eliminate the option of city crews picking up recyclable materials at the curbs of Quincy homes for a $5 charge on their water bills. Instead, paper, plastic, cardboard, glass and aluminum now can be dropped off at three locations and put them in bins at no charge. 

The vote allowed the city to avoid buying three new recycling trucks that would have cost approximately $1 million. Four employees previously dedicated to the recycling program were reassigned to other departments at Central Services. The drop-off sites were available on March 1, 2023, and curbside recycling ended on March 3.

Figures provided by the city as part of Troup’s State of the City address showed more than 604 tons of recyclable material were collected at the drop-off sites — Harrison Hy-Vee, 1400 Harrison, Refreshment Services Pepsi, 1121 Locust, and Home Depot, 5432 Broadway — from March to August 2023.

That’s a 22.5 percent increase from the 493 tons of recyclable material picked up by city crews from March to August 2022. The city collected 511 tons in the same period in 2021 and 448 tons in 2020.

“And look at our cost,” Troup said. “We’re still paying for the trucking, but we don’t have the recycling staff anymore. We’ve moved them, and they’re doing curbs, tree trimming, that kind of stuff. We’re getting more work out of Central Services. I also didn’t have to spend almost a million dollars on new vehicles. I think it’s a nice little story.”

Troup also is pleased that the number of recyclable materials blown around Quincy neighborhoods has been eliminated.

“When I would have my container at the curb on a windy day, what happened? Crap would blow all over the neighborhood,” he said. “We don’t have any of that any more.” 

Chart provided by City of Quincy

The recycling figures provided by the city showed that from March-August 2022 to March-August 2023:

  • The amount of plastic collected rose 15.8 percent (from 126 tons to 146 tons).
  • The amount of glass rose 36 percent (from 50 tons to 68 tons).
  • The amount of single-stream recycling (a system in which all recyclables, including newspaper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum, junk mail, etc., are placed in a single bin or cart for recycling) was 25 tons in 2022 but eliminated this year. “Single stream cost the city even extra money,” Troup said. “Now there is no such thing.”
  • The city collected 296 tons of cardboard and 96 tons of mixed paper in 2023. The total amounts of those two materials had been combined for the past three years. The city collected 292 tons of combined cardboard and mixed paper last year, and it saw a 33.2 percent increase in 2023.

The City of Quincy recently mailed a residential recycling survey to people who receive water and sewer bills by mail.  The city received 2,247 responses out of 17,383 accounts billed (12.9 percent) and learned 76.27 percent of the respondents participated in the curbside program and 81.13 percent now use the drop-off sites. 

“There’s a few who say, ‘I wish you had curbside still,’” Troup said. “But I mean, come on, for any government thing to have 80 percent of your people saying, ‘We like this’ … yeah, I’ll take that.”

The survey also found:

  • 76.90 percent thought the drop-off sites were convenient, safe and clean
  • 89.45 percent had a clear understanding of what items are and are not recyclable
  • 57.76 percent did not believe the city needed to be the host of town hall meetings to discuss the drop-off program 

The most commonly mentioned concerns and suggestions made by the respondents were:

  • Accommodations and assistance are needed for the elderly and disabled. Seven percent of the respondents expressed concern for the elderly, disabled and non-driving residents. 
  • Emptying containers (especially cardboard) more often. 
  • Opening more centrally located recycling drop-off sites.
  • Adding receptacles for plastic bags at each location.
  • Arranging the most used containers next to each other.
  • Steps, ramps and walkways are slick when wet, snowy or icy.
  • Lowering container openings for people in wheelchairs. 
  • Handicapped ramps are not noticeable at the Hy-Vee and Pepsi sites.
  • Expanding the variety of plastics accepted.
  • Improving lighting at sites (most complaints were about the Hy-Vee site). 
  • More public education is needed (what materials are recyclable, adding photos to website showing what is recyclable, creating flyer reminding residents to flatten cardboard and boxes. 
  • Offering electronics and battery recycling events several times a year. 
  • Providing containers for Styrofoam disposal. 

Troup said he wanted to wait until he had a year’s worth of data on the drop-off program before making changes.

“We’ve had some people talk about putting some kind of covering over where people are walking,” he said. “Honestly, I’d rather you didn’t go there if it is raining or snowing. There are probably some tweaks that we have to take a look at. Safety has to be a big part of how we look at it.”

The mayor is satisfied with the three drop-off sites and doesn’t believe more are needed. He said the company contracted to haul the recyclable materials from the drop-off sites checks each site every day.

“I don’t care if it’s Christmas or Sundays, they’ve got somebody checking, and they’re hauling things,” Troup said. “It’s working out awesome.”

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