22 Jun 2022

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, took on a major project to shift their disposal methods towards recycling. As far back as 2013, the city has constantly been trying to improve its recycling options, enabling residents to cut down their level of waste dramatically.

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But what has Cedar Rapids done, and how can it apply to other communities? Here is a full breakdown of what changed.

Cedar Rapids’ Garbage

Back in 2013, Cedar Rapids city officials realized that the majority of the trash being thrown away by its citizens was fully recyclable. Not only could it be properly recycled and reused in many different ways, but a massive amount of recyclable waste was simply being dumped or burned.

To counteract this problem, the officials aimed to improve recycling as an option among the city, pushing the locals into recycling far more often. The changes started out small but quickly began to ramp up once the amount of potentially-reusable materials being wasted became clear.


One of the first steps was for volunteers to go around door-to-door, telling apartment residents about the local recycling centers. Since apartments tend not to have a separate disposal shute option for recyclable materials, this was the best way to keep apartment residents up-to-date on where they could look.

This continued up until September of that year, giving Cedar Rapids residents a lot of time to learn about where their nearest recycling sites were. Even this small amount of education made a huge difference when it came to the amount of waste being recycled rather than thrown away.

However, the volunteers alone would not change much since they were only offering information rather than a solution. Some residents still struggled to recycle regularly since they would have to go quite far distances to even access their nearest recycling plant.

The Good

Informing people (residents, employees, or even members of your own family) about recycling options and limits can be an important part of building up better behaviors. Many people do not recycle because they do not know it is an option or are not aware of what they can recycle.

This voluntary spreading of information also helped cement the locations of recycling sites in the same way that you could spread the word about a recycling bin or dumpster across a company. Major changes like this work because they become common knowledge and expected behavior.

The Bad

However, this method of dealing with the problem still had flaws. The volunteers were informing others of the recycling option but were not giving them an easier way to do it. Apartment complexes still had to take care of their own recycling, but for some people, this might not be an option.

If the apartments themselves did not offer an easy way for people to manage their recycling, then that might have made it difficult for people to spend time driving up to the recycling center. After all, many of the people living in those apartments may have been working very long hours or have family responsibilities.

There was a lot of knowledge about the problem, but not much information about how to resolve it, which meant that most of the citizens were still relying on the same tools that they always had.


Cedar Rapids officials did regular tests of the city’s garbage to determine that around 60% of all trash was recyclable. This gave them an idea of how much was being wasted that could have been reused, allowing them to formulate a proper plan based on the volume of trash involved.

These tests were also the basis of a larger proposed system, one that would help make residents more aware of how they could recycle and the various recycling options available to them. In general, the idea was to prevent recyclables from being thrown out when they could be reused.

While there was a big focus on apartments, due to the way that apartment complexes do not often separate their trash types, it still covered every home in Cedar Rapids. Thanks to these tests, it became clear that Cedar Rapids residents were not necessarily aware that they could recycle easily.

The Good

These tests allowed Cedar Rapids officials to pinpoint the rough numbers that they were working with, giving actual figures that they could track or compare as they began to make changes. It also helped them pick out potential reasons behind the lack of recycling or other issues that might have an impact.

Using tests like this was also a great way to ensure that they have something to measure, rather than being stuck with loose information. The results of each test varied, but they still pointed to the majority of trash being potentially recyclable.

The Bad

While these tests were very useful as a source of data, they did not really lead to anything directly being done about the recycling issue. It shows citizens what the current stakes and issues are but does not necessarily give them an easy understanding of what they should do about it.

This also came with a lack of education on what could be recycled. Many items, including certain types of plastic, are recyclable but go unrecycled because people do not realize that it is an option. The same goes for some electrics and scrap metal types, among other things.

Educating people who are not recycling on their various recycling options can make a huge difference, especially when you consider tools like our very own dumpster hire services. The more options people know about, the easier it becomes for them to find a recycling method and plan that works for them.