Fiberight discussed for solid-waste management


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A proposed agreement between Iowa City officials and a waste-management company sparked environmental concerns in Iowa City residents at the Iowa City City Council meeting Tuesday night.

City officials proposed an initial agreement at the meeting to have Fiberight — a company that converts waste into ethanol — serve as the preferred contractor for solid-waste management in Iowa City. Iowa City’s solid waste is currently handled at the Landfill. If Fiberight receives a contract with Iowa City, waste will still enter the Landfill, but some will be converted from waste into ethanol.
The proposition met much opposition.

“This is anything but sustainable,” said Mike Carberry, the director of Green State Solutions. “This is a very bad and dirty process for the environment, and I don’t think the city of Iowa City should have anything to do with it.”

Nearly a dozen community members at the meeting expressed firm resistance toward Fiberight’s potential work in Iowa City, citing environmental concerns. All of these concerns have drawn more controversy than common ground on the issue.

Despite community opposition, the council voted 6-1 to move forward into the initial negotiation stages. Councilor Jim Throgmorton casted the sole dissenting vote.

Rick Fosse, the director of Iowa City Public Works, presented the recommendation to the council on Tuesday. Fosse said he thinks Fiberight would be a sustainable approach to Iowa City’s waste management.

“It’s an opportunity to significantly reduce what’s going into our Landfill,” he said. “… So in the long term, it will not only extend the life of the Landfill, but it will reduce methane-gas production at the Landfill.”

Fosse said if the city plans to move forward with Fiberight, caution would be taken throughout the process.

“This is a relatively new thing nationwide,” Fosse said. “There’s a number of different technologies that are working toward a better end for municipal solid waste, and Fiberight is one of the first to bring that to a commercial scale.”

Fosse said city officials would make sure all risks are assessed and contingencies are in place to mitigate risks if they do occur.

Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said right now, the company has been the only organization to conduct research on the process, but third parties have reviewed those findings.

Stuart-Paul said Fiberight intends to communicate throughout the process with both city officials and community members.

“We have proposed to the city that in the coming months we will hold a series of meeting at City Hall, and we will share with people our information,” he said. “We’re going to demonstrate to people that we have the capital and commitment to pull this off.”

Stuart-Paul said the allegations had no merit, and Fiberight officials were surprised by the push-back from Iowa City residents.

“We were absolutely surprised by this … it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we get the right information out,” he said. “We have a significant environmental benefit over burying trash.”

Jennifer Jordan, the city’s recycling coordinator, said the discussion about Fiberight, although controversial, has brought to light a larger discussion about the need for a more sustainable waste program.

“I’m really glad that the community is having this conversation,” she said. “We ‘landfill’ about 115,000 tons of trash each year, and about 75 percent of that could have either been recycled or composted.”

Jordan said that right now, there are more unanswered questions than answered ones, so the city will look for further input from Fiberight during these upcoming negotiations.

“The public comments [Tuesday] night were spot-on, I think, because questions like those that are going to help us find out if this is our solution or if there is a better one,” Jordan said.

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