Who wants to recycle?

Iola Rotary Club members and others met Thursday to discuss the program's future. Rotary has announced it will stop managing the program after 26 years, and members hope another entity will take it over.

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November 19, 2021 - 3:26 PM

Pastor and Iola Rotarian Dan Davis speaks at a Thursday meeting at First Presbyterian Church to discuss the fate of a recycling program overseen by the Iola Rotary Club. Rotarians have voted to discontinue their affiliation with the program in December. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

One thing is for sure, locals are going to miss Rotary’s recycling program if no one else takes the lead.

On Thursday night, about 25 people gathered to discuss the program’s future, now that Rotary has announced it will cease managing the program after 26 years.

While not all agreed what would be a satisfactory outcome, there was no denying the popularity of the program has grown substantially over the past few years and that the effort has extended the lifetime of Allen County’s landfill.

“That’s why we got into this in the first place, to repurpose what we would otherwise throw away,” said Steve Strickler. 

The program accepts cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and metal.

Its biggest item is cardboard. In one month’s time volunteers typically bale as much as 50,000 lbs. of cardboard, after which it is transported to a recycling center in Wellsville. 

Altogether, the recycling program’s success has been two-pronged: Repurposing waste and serving as a fundraiser for local groups who help with the effort and in turn receive stipends from recycling centers.

Strickler thinks that while it’s been difficult to keep a steady cadre of volunteers overseeing the effort, that locals would support a government entity — either the city or the county — taking over. 

Since the news of Rotary’s abandonment of the program, many have contacted the Register to say they are in favor of local government overseeing the program.

Steve Strickler, right, speaks at a meeting Thursday about recycling efforts in Iola. Listening is Harry Clubine.

Shellie Regehr wrote: 

“It is too difficult to have a group like Rotary sustain such an ongoing project with strictly volunteers. I hate to see it end. What solutions have other small communities found for this issue?”

Coffey County is a shining example of an effective recycling program, said Rotarian Karen Gilpin, noting it has a two-man crew overseeing the effort as well as a large building.

Coffey County collects recyclables from every city in the county. One person drives the truck while another picks up the refuse. People sign up for the service and are charged $5 a month.

Strickler said, “It’s pretty state-of-the-art. I think it could be a model for something we could do here. Of course, they have more money than God,” due to the property tax revenue incurred from the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant.

For Rotary’s program, Allen County has provided semi-trailers to haul the recyclables. Crews take glass and plastics to Burlington about every three months. Newsprint is taken to Wellsville about twice a year. And Ray Maloney of Ray’s Metal in LaHarpe recycles the cans collected, returning its profits of about $60 a month to the USD 257 school district. 

Residents from across the county and as far away as Chanute use Rotary’s service.

Rotary’s drop-off site is on the south side of Peerless Windows on North State Street. Last month, the industry informed Rotarians they need that space.

So not only does a new site need to be located, but also new management.

Kate Schroeder wrote to the Register: 

“I think this should be a city service. I would be more than happy to pay more or swap one of my garbage bins for recycling. I have two bins picked up twice a week, and honestly it’s much more than we need (as a two-person household without kids) since I sort out so much to recycle.”

Judy Brigham, a former Iola city administrator, recalled past efforts to engage city officials to oversee the program had failed. “And if you want to see a protest, just mention reducing trash pickup from two days to one.”

There’s never been buy-in to devote public funds to the effort, Brigham said.

“Times have changed,” Strickler countered, and agreed Iola’s trash pickup is overkill. 

Strickler also disagreed with the notion that such a service would cost taxpayers more.

“This could be a self-paying project,” Strickler said, if instead of picking up trash eight times a month for households, four of those days could be dedicated to picking up recyclables.

Brigham didn’t disagree, but noted that city crews do not pick up trash for private businesses.

To that, Strickler said, “We’ll find someone to take their cardboard. I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Currently, businesses contract with private enterprises to haul their trash. One service, Green Environmental Services of Erie, recently notified customers that it will no longer participate in recycling cardboard, meaning even more will end up in the landfill.

“I’m not sure what ‘green’ is provided by their services anymore,” said Dan Davis. “Perhaps they should change their name.”

If change is to occur, Brigham said, then the public needs to let their leaders know this issue is important to them.

“If the public wants it and the public is willing to pay for it, then they’ll listen,” she said. “The public is the one who decides how our tax dollars are spent.”

Former Iola city administrator Judy Brigham, from left, speaks at a meeting Thursday about local recycling efforts with Iolan Gary McIntosh, a former county commissioner, and Alana Kinzle, president of Rotary.

Ken McGuffin supports government buy-in for the program.

“I believe recycling is in the best interest of us all and should be the responsibility of a tax-supported entity,” McGuffin wrote to the Register. “This investment is too important for the environment and welfare of future generations to be left up to just a civic club and a few concerned and generous citizens.”  

At Thursday’s gathering, Richard Zahn voiced regret that no city or county officials were present. 

“Two-thirds of us are Rotarians,” he said. “This group has done a herculean effort to keep the program going. But it’s no longer possible.”

In her comments to the Register, Clara Wicoff recognized the challenge of it continuing as a volunteer effort.

Wicoff wrote: “I’ve volunteered for the program in the past, and I know it’s a lot of work for the volunteers. It’s definitely providing a much-needed service, so I would love to see it continued in the future, but I know volunteers get burned out and obviously they need to find a new space as well.” 

Rotarian Donna Grigsby commented on how appreciative members of the community are of the service.

“Even those who bring a small bag once a week say how much this means to them,” she said. 

Regarding a private contractor stepping in, Shane Lamb of DeSoto voiced interest in the operation. Lamb operates a tire shredding business in the silos of the abandoned Lehigh Cement abutting the popular rail trail.

“I’m looking to expand,” he said.

Strickler voiced concern over the program’s future.

“We’ve all worked hard on this thing and put in countless hours.

“It will be over my dead body that this will be discontinued,” he said.

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