Future of local can, bottle recycling program in question

(Above) A large dumpster from Absolute Waste has replaced the usual collection bins for cans and bottles at the Clear Lake Fareway Store. The Chamber of Commerce and One Vision will continue to collect cans through RAGBRAI this Tuesday, July 25.  Beyond that date, another plan is being investigated to take care of the can and bottle recycling in Clear Lake.

Village pulls out; Chamber fireworks fund facing loss in revenue

by Alli Weaver
Clear Lake residents and visitors have been using the can and bottle recycling centers provided by Opportunity Village, now called One Vision, and the Chamber of Commerce for upwards of 20 years. Now, it seems that they will need to find another way to take care of their beverage containers.
In previous years, the funds collected by the project have been split between the Village and the Chamber of Commerce Fireworks Fund. However, One Vision lost money on the task last year, according to Tim Coffey, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.
He explained, the same deposit fee of 5 cents has been around since the 1970s.  Initially it was enough to cover the costs of labor, but now it isn’t sufficient.
“It also takes a lot of time and is a messy type of work to do,” Coffey said.
Therefore, One Vision has made the decision to discontinue their involvement in the program, and reassigned the recycling staff to other positions.
The Chamber of Commerce and One Vision will continue to collect cans through RAGBRAI this Tuesday, July 25.  Beyond that date, another plan is being investigated to take care of the can and bottle recycling in Clear Lake.
“I spent a good part of June calling recyclers around the state.  Some are closing for similar reasons that One Vision wanted to get out,” Coffey said.
The local Fareway Store collects cans and bottles, and with the discontinuance of this program, Manager Rod Bernard fears that the surplus of beverage containers may prove to be an issue. 
“When they quit redeeming them, it’ll be huge.  Thousands and thousands of cans will need to be sorted and stored,” Bernard said.
With limited numbers of staffers and hours, taking up the slack could prove to be a real issue for Fareway and similar locations that accept cans and bottles.  Bernard suggested that selling the aluminum from the cans, rather than sorting them out, could be an avenue that would allow for some of the funds to be raised without the hassle. 
However, after investigation by Coffey at the Chamber of Commerce, the idea to sell the aluminum seems to currently be a dead end.
Beer distributors in the area currently sell aluminum in this manner, so Coffey discussed partnering with them.  The partnership was declined because of the amount of cans that would need to be accepted, and the additional manpower which would be needed.
“We’re still exploring ways to see if we can’t recoup some of that recycling in other ways,” Coffey said.
Currently, there is a large Absolute Waste Disposal bin located outside of Fareway.   Absolute Waste doesn’t have the staff to pick up as often as One Vision did, therefore it is a larger receptacle.  Cans and bottles dropped off there will go to a recycler in Charles City. However, none of the can deposits benefit the Chamber of Commerce or One Vision through this program.
“That’s going to impact us more next year than this year,” Coffey said.
Last year the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce received just over $17,000 as a result of can and bottle donations.
Other plans for raising additional fireworks funds are being discussed by the Chamber of Commerce.
“We raise money annually in a letter campaign, and we’re considering sending another letter to our donors to see if they would consider an extra gift,” Coffey said.
The Ignite project, which the Chamber launched in 2013,  is also allowing for some investment income to benefit the fireworks display, as well.  The Chamber established an endowment account for the fireworks fund with the Cerro Gordo County Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa.  The goal of raising $1.2 million was reached.
Along with the issues of funding the fireworks and taking care of the surplus of cans and bottles that will come in, the change in local recycling options also raises environmental concerns, according to Coffey.
“The program was a convenient way for people to take care of their cans and bottles, and that convenience might be taken away,” he said.
Coffey estimates that by the end of July to mid-August, this issue will experience some closure, one way or another.

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