On Matters of Recycling: Where Does Iowa City Stand on Environmental Justice?

By Chanmealea Thou, Vol. 20 Student Writer

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies . . . . It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards . . . .” In addition, most scientists would agree that human wastes contribute to pollution and other environmental hazards and that recycling is among one of the most viable solution to reduce pollution. Yet, in Iowa City, only single-family residence and residences with less than four dwelling units are required to participate in the city’s recycling program. In other words, large residential buildings with more than four dwelling units are not required participate in any recycling program. In fact, the city’s curbside recycling program does not offer recycling services to these buildings. In order to implement a recycling system for such building, the residents have to get approval from the landlord and hire local haulers to do the job. Because of this lack of mandate, many buildings with more than four dwelling units do not adopt any recycling system and do not offer any spaces for recycling bins.

It is clear that in Iowa City, not all persons have a fair and meaningful involvement and protection of its environmental laws because its residents do not have equal access to its recycling program based on their place of dwelling. This essentially means that many residents have a harder time engaging in the protection of the environment. Although there is a lack of research on the average income of people who resides in more-than-four-dwelling-units buildings and those who live in a single-family residences or less-than-four-dwelling-unit buildings, it can reasonably be said that there seems to be a divide on the enforcement of law based on where people choose to live, which is generally a symbol of economic status. As a result, it is safe to say, Iowa City does not wholeheartedly stand with environmental justice, as laid out by the EPA.

What have Iowa City done to address the issue?

The Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center launched a pilot recycling program with five buildings that has more than four dwelling units. However, this program occurred in 2012 and there are roughly 12,000 buildings that have more than four dwelling units in Iowa City. In 2013, a survey by University of Iowa Student Government shows that 83% of students were willing to pay an extra $2.50, which would cover all of the recycling fees. Yet, as of now, the City Council is still considering the recycling mandate for these residential buildings and had not made any solid commitments for the passage of this mandate. Because this issue has been on the agenda for a long time and there is a clear support from the community, please call the City Council to ensure your fair chance to protect the environment and environmental justice!

Environmental Justice, EPA, https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice. (last visited Oct. 13, 2016).

Josh O’Leary, City Considering Mandate for Apartment Recycling, Iowa City Press-Citizen (Dec. 29, 2015), http://www.press-citizen.com/story/news/local/2015/12/28/city-considerin....