Waste Not
Case Study:
Closed Loop Fund Shows Iowa's Scott County That Recycling Can Be Profitable

Less than one year after partnering with the Closed Loop Fund and investing $10.75 million in new infrastructure — including recycling carts and a newly upgraded county-owned and operated materials recycling facility (MRF) — Iowa’s Scott County has seen a 61 percent increase in recycling and generated $100,000 in savings and revenue.

The Closed Loop Fund financed the acquisition of over 48,500 single stream household recycling in the Quad Cities communities of Scott County. The Scott County Recycling Program provides a model of how mid-sized communities can finance the deployment of a comprehensive recycling program that is profitable for the participating communities.

Designed to process 18,000 tons per year, the upgraded MRF was projected to double its through-put over time. Since opening, inbound volume has quickly ramped up, with material coming from the Illinois-side of the Quad Cities area and, in some cases, 60-100 miles away. As a result, the team has added operating hours to handle input. The Commission expects to reach 16,500 tons in its first year and is now considering adding a second shift to manage volumes.

Lessons Learned: What Went Right and How Others Can Do It, Too

Key Insight 1: Best Practices in Education Campaign Effectiveness: The Commission invested in a robust education and promotion plan for the launch and rollout of the new recycling program. They used data from a public perception survey to inform messaging and outlets, and made strategic use of funding and ambassadors in the community to get the message out. The community-wide, multi-platform campaign was informed by resources and tools from The Recycling Partnership, a national nonprofit, and executed by a local PR firm. Since the initial launch, the Commission has dedicated attention to follow-through to ensure education efforts have long-lasting effects.

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Key Insight 2: Making the Decision to Continue MRF operations: When the Scott Area Recycling Center’s aging recycling equipment needed to be replaced, the Waste Commission of Scott County and its intergovernmental partners, the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, pursued the change from dual to single stream recycling by evaluating three options – own and operate the MRF, send materials to a privately-owned MRF, or outsource operations to a private entity. Bucking the trend among municipality-owned MRFs today, this analysis concluded that the best option was for the Commission to own and operate an upgraded Recycling Center, and at the same time increase inbound volumes by marketing to more nearby municipalities.

The Closed Loop Fund’s case study includes insight tools to help others adopt Scott County’s best practices. It also highlights other key factors that can help others implement a successful program:

  • Public officials who were committed to transitioning to a single stream and increasing diversion;
  • Vertically integrated operations that allowed the Commission to work closely with municipalities on collections and markets commodities;
  • The presence of solutions for a wide range of accepted materials;
  • Sufficient feedstock volumes in the County with additional regional opportunities

“We’re very pleased with the program results so far,” said Kathy Morris, Director of the Waste Commission. “Davenport and Bettendorf are recycling more and we’re able to serve additional communities.”

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