SIOUX CITY | Clinking glass has become a common sound at the Hamilton Boulevard Hy-Vee.
The big purple bin sitting outside the grocery store has become one of the most popular locations for Sioux City residents to dispose of their glass recyclables over the past six months, ever since the material was removed from the city's curbside recycling program.
That bin alone has gathered 12.25 tons of glass so far, nearly a quarter of the city's total for recycled glass in its first six months of the program. Crews emptied the bin three times over that time, more than any of the city's others.
In all, nearly 51 tons of glass were collected in the city's six bins over the first six months of the year.
Beginning Jan. 1 of 2017, the city ceased accepting glass as part of its single-stream curbside recycling program. Instead, it instructed residents to begin depositing their glass in a handful of locations in grocery store parking lots.
The transition came after the city learned that Van's Sanitation -- the Le Mars, Iowa, company that processes the city's recyclables -- was phasing glass out of its facility due to falling commodity prices and safety concerns. Rather than switching companies, the city opted to partner with Kansas City-based Ripple Glass for its glass recycling.
The big question by the City Council at the time was whether people would participate. Environmental Services Analyst Melissa Campbell, who oversees the city's recycling initiatives, said she's been pleased with the results thus far.
Between Jan. 1 and May 9, she said, the bins accumulated a collective 22 tons. Six weeks later, another 28 tons had been tallied. Ripple Glass, the Kansas City-based company that picks up the city's glass recyclables once the city accumulates approximately 25 tons, has made two trips to retrieve loads of glass already.
"I didn’t expect to have to empty it twice already. I was thinking maybe once or twice a year," Campbell said. "It seems like it’s picking up a little bit."
Sioux City Environmental Advisory Board chairwoman Carrie Radloff agreed.
"Change can be difficult, but it’s clear by the volume of glass collected that it’s been a positive change for the community and surrounding areas," Radloff said.
Radloff said her family redeems glass bottles but also fills up a five-gallon pail about once a month to recycle on a trip to the grocery store.
Campbell said while it's hard to say whether more or less glass is being put into recycling bins, she knows more is being recycled at the end of the process.
"Most of our glass was being landfilled in the first place because a lot of it drops out in the process," she said. "So the fact that our glass is now being collected by Ripple Glass -- 100 percent of that glass is recycled."
Ripple Glass touts that it recovers 98 percent of the glass that it receives through drop-off programs.
Including glass, recycling numbers in the first six months of 2017 are down about 4 percent from last year at this time, although those numbers frequently fluctuate and it's difficult to attribute any decrease to the separation of glass.
In fact, recycling numbers had already shown a small decline in the months leading up to the switch-over -- dropping from about 1,280 tons in the final six months of 2015 to 1,170 tons in the final six months of 2016. The year ended with the lowest total recycling tonnage in the past three years at 2,336, about 170 tons short of the previous year.
The city's move to glass recycling has also been a catalyst for increased recycling initiatives at the 185th Air Refueling Wing, one of the city's top employers.
Neil Stockfleth, environmental manager with the 185th Air Refueling Wing, said the wing has long been missing a way to recycle their glass bottles, which have instead been going into the landfill.
"We've been over the last several years increasing our recycling programs, but we hadn't really figured out how to do the glass piece yet," Stockfleth said. "It's been kind of a tough nut to crack."
Stockfleth said the wing borrowed an extra container from the city in January, and after the first three months, the wing purchased its own container and will now contribute to the city's recycling program as it generates glass recycling.
"I appreciate the city's willingness to work with us and allow us to have a place to send that glass," he said.
Campbell said the city doesn't have any specific initiatives planned but will continue advertising the glass recycling locations to keep the interest in the public eye.