Recycling in Muscatine. Paper, plastic and…leftovers?

The Public Works of Muscatine picks up not only garbage but also recycling at the curb for the convenience of the citizens. Paper, plastics, metals and even glass can be picked up by the city for no additional charges. This single stream recycling system is super helpful for people who don’t like the idea of sorting recyclables. But when the recyclable items are removed from the trash what does that leave? The answer is: lots of scraps. Kitchen scraps, specifically, 40% of our landfills are made up of organic matter. Everything that’s scraped off the dinner plates, the bread heels no one will eat, the leftovers that never make the cut, produce that rots before it can be remembered, when these things end up in a landfill and get buried under the rest of the refuse, a dangerous chemical reaction occurs. When left out, this organic waste will break down via bacteria and sunlight and produce carbon dioxide and other simple compounds. But, it’s when this waste is buried, away from air and sunlight that the danger can occur. In an anaerobic environment organic matter will break down more slowly, but it does still break down…into methane. Methane is the reason for almost every dumpster or landfill fire because it is an extremely combustible and explosive compound. It is in fact, natural gas. It is also a leading cause of climate change as methane is about 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And that’s why the city of Muscatine funded the MORC, Muscatine Organics Recycling Center. After years of research, trial and error and lots of grant writing, anyone in Muscatine can now take their food waste down to the recycling center and put it in the bright orange dumpster, keeping it out of the landfill forever! But then what? Something amazing, that’s what. The MORC takes the food waste from the citizens and puts it in a big vat filled with bacteria, very much reminiscent of a landfill, except these bacteria work for the city too! The methane produced by the bacteria inside these giant digesters is captured and then pumped back into the city pipelines to help power buildings for free, but that’s not all. The next step in the process is liquifying the captured methane and using it to power the Muscabus and other public vehicles like police cars and fire trucks. The sky’s the limit!

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