RECYCLING: A More than Fair Exchange

When a Krispy Kreme doughnuts branch opened recently in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sales of the signature confections skyrocketed — as did waste generation. Each week, the store disposed of 70 five-gallon plastic buckets, used for doughnut fillings and glaze. The Des Moines-based Iowa Waste Exchange (IWE) then proposed a way to cut the fat from the store's waste disposal costs.

Pairing the branch with a local timber management company that picks up the buckets and distributes them for nut collection to aid reforestation efforts, IWE helped Krispy Kreme divert nearly 7,300 pounds of plastic per year from the landfill.

Material exchanges match businesses that want to dispose of refuse with companies that can use the discarded materials. In its more than 10 years of operation, Iowa's program has diverted more than 720,000 tons of waste from state landfills and saved businesses approximately $20 million in avoided disposal costs.

In fiscal year 2002 alone, the exchange reported that it had found uses for nearly 500 materials, diverting more than 100,000 tons of waste and avoiding nearly $3.9 million in disposal costs. Theses efforts have surpassed IWE's fiscal year goal of diverting 75,000 tons of waste materials from state landfills. In October, the Iowa Recycling Association, Des Moines, gave IWE the 2002 award for the Best Business Assistance Provider.

Established by the Iowa state legislature in 1990, the program is funded through a percentage of state landfill tonnage fees. It is administered through a partnership of the Cedar Falls-based Iowa Waste Reduction Center and Recycle Iowa (a division of the Iowa Department of Economic Development) and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), both Des Moines based. Operating the exchange out of the state's economic development office also lends legitimacy to the program for businesses wary of environmental initiatives.

“One of the biggest successes is our partnerships with the DNR and with businesses,” says C.J. Niles, director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development. “It's a public-private entity, and it's tied into economic development as a way to help business.”

Although the IWE maintains a web-based catalog, as other material exchanges often do, a key factor in Iowa's success is its 10 field specialists. Specialists assist state businesses in finding potential markets for their wastes and are housed at local community colleges or councils of government that receive grants from Recycle Iowa. Agreements about transporting materials are left up to companies making the transaction.

“We really feel like the success of the program is [the result of an] active staff, as opposed to just a catalog of things,” Niles says. “People are appreciative of having a field representative in their area, someone who can give them real answers in real time, who can help them get rid of their waste. It's a benefit to their business. It helps the bottom line.”

To date, the program has helped more than 3,500 businesses find new uses for industrial materials and byproducts. In addition to saving on disposal costs, participating companies also may realize savings in avoided purchases, reductions in transportation cost and increased storage space. All IWE services are free, confidential and nonregulatory.

Materials exchanged include chemicals, fluorescent lights, glass, metals, organic waste, paper, plastics, textiles and tires. The exchange prefers that material be reused in its original form before being recycled into a new product or used for energy recovery. The goal is to always find the highest end-market value for the material.

The exchange also is involved in other recycling-related ventures. For example, IWE recently worked with the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Des Moines, to turn outdated mini-bulk containers, used for crop protection chemicals or fertilizer, into alternative fuel. IWE specialists also regularly provide technical assistance on business planning, financing and marketing for recycling- or reuse-related startups or existing companies.

Although the amount of tonnage diverted and materials matched by the IWE generally has risen in the past decade, the numbers have dipped in the past couple years from a high of 175,000 tons diverted in fiscal year 2000. Niles attributes the dips to fluctuating markets, as well as the exchange's success.

“You're getting [materials from] many businesses, so the next year, there may not be as much product to recycle,” she says. “Sometimes the matches are hard to make and may be two years down the road. It's one of those things you have to keep working at and keep in front of everyone.”

As the exchange enters its second decade, IWE will continue to publicize its services. “We know we haven't reached 100 percent saturation of businesses,” Niles says. “We want to reach citizens too, so they know that their businesses are trying to do the right thing. Our biggest challenge is getting the information out and having those businesses remember it when they need it.”

The IWE also has worked with other states, such as Colorado, to set up or promote their own waste exchanges.

Ironically, as the program becomes more successful, it will have less money to operate because it is funded by waste disposal, Niles points out. It is unlikely that the state will reach 100 percent waste diversion anytime soon. Nevertheless, the IWE is poised to help Iowans come as close as possible.

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