Columbia discussing ways to improve recycling

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COLUMBIA - The tallest man-made structure in Columbia isn't a parking garage or a building on MU's campus. It's the city's landfill, and it keeps growing. 

"Right now it's the highest elevation in the city of Columbia," Sustainability Manager Barbara Buffaloe said. "I don't like that."

Columbia is looking at ways to improve its solid waste diversion rate, or the percent of materials that don't go into the landfill. 

Its rate is currently just 17 percent, half the national average. 

So, city leaders are looking at ways to increase the amount of recycling in the community. 

"We want to live in a community that thinks about the whole life cycle of stuff," Buffaloe said. "So, if I can encourage people to waste less, and recycle more. That has an impact on our environment."

Columbia has held several public forums to discuss possible solutions to the problem. 

One option is to implement a pay-as-you-throw policy that would make residents pay for as much trash as they throw away but not extra for recycling the blue bags. 

"Communities that have made the change are going to see the biggest improvement in recycling," Buffaloe said. "If you really want people to recycle, you have to give them an incentive to."

Columbia Public Works Information Specialist Steven Sapp said one of the problems is finding a large enough labor force to collect curbside trash and recycling throughout the year. 

He said that 68 percent of the residential collection staff experiences turnover annually.

A lot of that has to do with the physical toll that lifting hundreds of bags in one day has on the workers. 

"Repetitive motion is going to cause injuries," Columbia Landfill and Recovery Superintendent Nick Paul said. "Guys have had knee operations and shoulder operations just picking up trash."

But the issues when it comes to recycling aren't limited to workers and residents. 

Some businesses in Columbia choose not to recycle because of either inconvenience or expense factors. 

The city has ten drop-off recycling containers throughout the city, but some businesses downtown don't recycle because the closest one, behind the 10th and Cherry parking garage, can sometimes be several blocks away. 

Rather than make a trip to the container or pay for commercial curbside recycling, Sapp said some businesses choose to just not recycle at all. 

He said the city has looked to both increase the overall number of containers and also place them in more effective spots to make the choice easier for these businesses. 

"Space in the downtown area is at a premium," Sapp said. "But that's one of the things the Community Improvement District has really gotten serious about, which is trying to find us space to do that."

The city will continue discussing other methods to help eliminate unnecessary waste and hopes to come up with an action plan sometime next year. 

The next public forum for the issue is Wednesday evening at City Hall from 6-8 p.m.