Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

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COLUMBIA - Recycling participation is low in Columbia and the city's waste supervisor says failed marketing campaigns may be the reason why.

Participation in recycling by Columbia residents increased by 2 percent last year, despite several marketing campaigns aimed at increasing it by 5 percent.

Layli Terrill, who is the waste minimization supervisor for the city, said the perception of Columbia, when it comes to recycling, is skewed.

"Most residents believe Columbia is actually a great recycler as a whole, but really we're not," she said. "We're just average and we have a lot of room for improvement."

Only 32% of households in Columbia actively recycle, right on par with the national average, Terrill said.

"We're looking at more opportunities to market and do marketing programs to increase recycling," she said.

The current slogan for city's program is: "It's so easy to recycle."

Terrill said, "We don't want people to think of it as an extra step. It's just another step. Instead of throwing it in the trash, you put it in your recycle bin."

The lack of participation is due, in large part, to a certain generation gap, she said.

"I think that people, in general, are just used to throwing things in the trash and it passes from generation to generation," she said. "When you look at waste as a whole, recycling is new."

Terrill said previous campaigns missed the target audiences.

"If we aren't getting the message out to the younger generation that then becomes parents, I think that's maybe where we're missing our mark," Terrill said.

20 year-old resident Kellie Pressler said recycling has always been a part of her household routine.

"I've been recycling as long as I can remember," she said. "My mom has always been a very big advocate of recycling, so now that I live on my own, I want to continue recycling."

Pressler believes a lack of education and understanding contributes to low participation rates.

"I don't think people are educated on the toll not recycling takes on the environment," she said. "I think if we can get that information out to people, we can raise that percentage and ultimately get more people to recycle."

Pressler also said it's difficult to get people to begin recycling when they've never done so before.

"If people haven't made recycling a part of their everyday life by the time they live on their own, I'm not really sure how you in instill the idea in them," she said.

Columbia has its own Material Recovery Facility where it operates on a dual-stream system. This requires residents to separate items such as plastics and aluminums from newspaper and other fiber products.

Terrill says the city will continue to operate on a dual-stream system because it cannot afford the more effective single-stream technology.

"Studies show if you go to single stream you increase your overall recycling by 50 percent, which is a lot," she said. "We just don't have the money to do that right now."

She said the huge jump in recycling participation is due, in large part, to the fact that all recyclables can be put into the same container for pick-up.

Out of the product that enters the Material Recovery Facility, Terrill said, about 90% is turned around and sold.

Still, the facility operates in the red nearly every year, she said.

"Money made from selling product is put right back into the operational costs, she said. "What we're lacking is the quantity of materials, we need to increase participation."

The city has several drop-off centers where residents can take their recycling if they do not have curbside pickup or find it more convenient.

"The drop-off centers are extremely popular," she said. "We empty them everyday, some two times a day."

Terrill said recycling participation has not changed in the seven years she's been with the department.

"We don't have a specific goal, but if we could increase that by like 10 percent or so that would be fabulous," she said. "But how to encourage others to recycle is something we've been struggling with since I've been here."

Residents can get vouchers for the blue bags used for curbside pick up by calling Waste Zero at 1-800-866-3954 or visiting its website.