Helton: Sustainability needs to be more affordable and accessible

Public recycling and inexpensive recycled goods must become more mainstream.


Two new solar powered trash and recycling cans sit in the ped mall on Wednesday, Nov 4, 2015. There are currently four downtown, and if proven successful the city will put in more. (The Daily Iowan/Lexi Brunk)

Elijah Helton, Opinion Columnist

Events advertised in chalk, Hawkeyes pouring in and out of their classes, and sign-up tables for student organizations are ubiquitous on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway. There’s always something to see. In the middle of the bustling boulevard sit items that you probably wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking for them: recycling bins. And while the beaten path from the Pentacrest to Stanley Residence Hall offers passersby an easy way to be environmentally friendly, recycling bins are far too rare on the pedestrian pathways of Iowa City.

We need to start treating recycling as a civic duty, something that everyone is encouraged to participate in with equal access. But just like voting, a single person isn’t going to make difference alone. We can have a meaningful effect if we make every effort to get everyone involved. Simply put, we’re all in this together.

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We’re not doing nothing. In September, the Iowa City City Council unanimously approved the Climate Action and Adoption Plan for our city.

The plan includes provisions for just about everything, including waste management, and taking care of all that trash is no joke. According to the plan, “Over half of all the municipal emissions (54.3 percent) were a direct result of organic waste decomposing in the Iowa City Landfill, which is owned and operated by the city but serves all of Johnson County.”

“There are a lot of variables that we can’t control,” City Councilor Rockne Cole said at the meeting that approved the plan. “But there are a lot of variables we can control. We need to feel a greater sense of urgency. We’re living through 95-degree September days, and we’re seeing flash flooding in our streets.”

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Admittedly, a few dozen more recycling bins on the Iowa City streets isn’t going to be the straw that breaks the climate-change camel’s back, but it is a straw nonetheless. Getting the little things right is key to making projects such as the Climate Action and Adoption Plan work.

We need to get to work somewhere on this desperate situation. Cole is right; this is urgent. It’s not constructive to think of Iowa City as a minor player in Iowa, which is an even smaller player in the country and planet as a whole. Without movement in local government, the rapid and drastic measures that require global action won’t work.

Of course, applauding a particular city council isn’t going to fight climate change on its own. As my colleague Isabella Rosario wrote on Oct. 15, “walking to work instead of driving won’t be enough.” If you didn’t already have enough reason to vote on Nov. 6, make saving the planet your reason. If you don’t want Iowa in October to feel like Mississippi in July, put leaders into office who will do everything in their power to reduce waste and soften the blow of climate change.

And while I wait for Election Day, I still need somewhere to recycle my coffee cup.