IOWA CITY –Iowa City will enter into negotiations with a company that says it could turn most of the city’s garbage into ethanol.
But residents, environmentalists, representatives from the recycling industry and labor union officials urged the city to delay action or not go through with a deal at all.
The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to pick Fiberight LLC as the city’s preferred contractor for seeking alternative technologies for processing solid waste. What that means is city staffers will try to reach a deal with the Maryland-based company for its services, but it is not obligated to do so.
And City Council members made clear they are not yet sold on validity of Fiberight’s technology.
“From my perspective, this is in absolutely no way a done deal simply because we start the negotiation process,” council member Susan Mims said.
Fiberight says it can make ethanol out of food waste and contaminated material that cannot be recycled. It said last year that it could reduce the amount of solid waste going into Iowa City’s landfill by up to 80 percent.
The company owns a former corn ethanol plant in the small town of Blairstown in Benton County that it is converting so it can make ethanol from cellulosic fiber derived from organic wastes found in garbage.
Fiberight already has a contract with Marion and said last week it plans to break ground next spring on a $20 million facility in that town to prepare waste to go to the ethanol plant.
About 10 people spoke at the Iowa City Council meeting, all critical of a city agreement with Fiberight. They questioned the environmental impact of Fiberight’s process, possible negative effects on curbside recycling, the possible loss of city jobs and more.
Martha Norbeck of Iowa City said the city should do more to encourage recycling rather than exploring a deal with Fiberight.
“Recycling is a gateway drug to environmentalism,” she said.
Ali Hayford, vice president of sales and marketing for City Carton Recycling, the Iowa City-based vendor for the city’s recycling program, said her company was calling on the city to delay Tuesday’s vote and create a community task force to evaluate the project.
No City Council member expressed full support for eventually going into business with Fiberight. But they said entering into negotiations would give them a chance to get answers to all of the questions raised.
Rick Fosse, Iowa City’s public works director, said there was no risk to the city in moving forward but did risk being on the outside looking in if Fiberight is successful in what they’re doing and move on with other local governments.
Jim Throgmorton cast the dissenting vote.
This article is brought to you in collaboration between The Gazette and Harvest Public Media.
Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration of several Midwestern public media stations, including Iowa Public Radio.
Harvest's multimedia work — appearing on radio, TV, and in print and online outlets — explores issues related to food and food production.
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