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A Look Into Des Moines' Commitment to Sustainability With Shekinah Young

Sustainability and Recycle DSM in DSM USA

April 20, 2017

The #1 Best City for the Middle Class (Business Insider, 2016), the fastest-growing metro in the Midwest (U.S. Census Bureau), the #1 Best City for Young Professionals (Forbes, 2014): Des Moines is the place to be! Our capital city continues to drive steady momentum in welcoming new populations and establishing a vibrant arts and culture scene while surpassing previous records and setting new trends. The work, however, doesn’t stop when the recognitions roll in. Iowa's largest city is committed to being financially-sound and livable with upgraded infrastructure, while keeping the community sustainable.   

Sustainability in Greater Des Moines (DSM)

Des Moines’ sustainability focus began about 10 years ago. What started as a task force of passionate residents and sustainability experts with Mayor Cownie at the helm eventually led the City of Des Moines to work toward higher energy efficiency standards and launch a number of sustainable objectives that have grown since that initial body of work. Mayor Cownie’s goal has always been to build a better future and a better community for the next generation, and he has continued to push the city to be thoughtful in valuing natural resources. The organization has taken these objectives and led by example through policy and projects that span the construction of LEED facilities, measuring progress through national programs like STAR Communities and leveraging the American Planning Association’s Comprehensive Plan Standards for Sustaining Places in the City of Des Moines’ updated comprehensive plan — Plan DSM.

While we have hit energy efficiency marks in building design, and have looked towards the future growth of our community. We have also focused on areas that affect people a little closer to home: waste minimization. Des Moines residents in single family homes have been able to recycle since 2002. What started out as small green bins where recyclables were separated, quickly moved to single stream large blue cart. This program has been so successful for single family residents that in 2015, the City Council approved updates to the city codes to expand the program to multi-family dwelling units throughout the city. 

Last year, Des Moines residents recycled more than 10,000 tons through the curbside recycling program.

Our Public Works staff has worked to help increase recycling rates while decreasing contamination rates through education and programming. The team has developed promotional materials, created the SCRUB (Spring Cleanup to Remove Urban Blight) program and recently began a Gold Level Recycling program to reward super recyclers. The question becomes, ‘if we recycle in our homes, why can’t we recycle in public spaces?’

The answer is, we can, now. Last week, along with Operation Downtown, the City of Des Moines announced the expansion of the Recycle DSM program, which started as a pilot program with eight receptacles in October of 2016 in the Historic East Village. The program has now expanded to a 50-receptacle program in six months, with 20 recycling receptacles in Historic East Village and 30 in Western Gateway Park. The expansion was aided by the Coca-Cola/Keep America Beautiful Public Space Recycling Bin Grant Program, which awarded Operation Downtown a grant in 2016 to add recycling bins to the City. Keep America Beautiful and The Coca-Cola Company are working together to address one of the primary barriers to recycling in public spaces by making access to recycling bins more readily available and convenient.

As a Downtown Des Moines (DSM) resident and employee, I enjoy the improved accessibility to recycling in my home, office and community areas. These new strides reinforce the City's and Operation Downtown’s commitment to a sustainable community and improved quality of life for all our residents and employees. 

Learn more about Recycle DSM, Downtown DSM’s recycling program, at OperationDowntown.com/Recycling.

Shekinah Young

Shekinah Young serves as chief communications officer for Iowa's largest and capital city - City of Des Moines. She connects residents, businesses and organizations to local government. She is a proud alum of Drake University, the University of Iowa and the African American Leadership Institute. Ms. Young is a member of Back to School Iowa and the John R Grubb YMCA's executive boards.