Ordinance would make collecting unattended recyclables illegal

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 | 7:17 p.m. CDT; updated 11:56 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 11, 2008
Civic Recycling welcomed a steady flow of aluminum cans on Monday morning, with a majority coming as a result of the first Tigers football home game over the weekend.

COLUMBIA - For Debra Knight, the money she makes selling cans to Civic Recycling, a private business that buys and collects recyclables to resell for profit, is important.

As a single mother with an 11-year-old son, she spends two to three days a week collecting blue bags of cans that residents set curbside for the city to pick up. Since she lost her job last month, she relies on the money as her sole source of income while she waits for a check from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.


Related Media

Knight's survival strategy, however, might soon be illegal. On Monday, the Columbia City Council is scheduled to vote on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit people from picking up cans in city recycling bags that residents leave at the curb.

The idea came from Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, who said her husband and others have told her they've seen lots of people loading up cars and trucks with recyclables intended for city collection crews. It's a practice that costs the city money, but one that people like Knight rely upon for cash.

It's also a source of income for Civic Recycling.

Just last weekend, Knight pulled into Civic Recycling to drop off 10 blue bags full of aluminum cans. Civic employee Derrick Ivy weighed them and gave Ivy a receipt she redeemed for $30 to $40.

"I'm just one person trying to survive," Knight said. "This is what I have to do."

Knight wasn't alone. Jeff McCully also pulled up with a load of cans in garbage bags that his kids collected as a way to get some spending money. Then Joe Long brought in a batch he saved up at home so he could give a little cash to his grandson.

Once Ivy weighs the bags full of cans that people bring in, he throws them on the floor of a dimly lit warehouse that smells like beer. This past weekend, piles of bagged cans covered the warehouse floor waiting to be compacted into one-ton blocks that are stacked in a corner until they're sold.

Civic pays about 80 cents per pound of aluminum.

"A lot of people do it for the money," Ivy said. "But a lot of people are just recyclers."

Nicholas Paul, collection superintendent for the city's residential recycling program, said about six months ago, the city began receiving regular complaints from residents who see their trash or recycling bags being picked up by people who don't work for the city.

Hoppe said she's concerned not only about the city losing money, but also that non-aluminum items in the bags, such as plastic bottles, might end up in the city's landfill because they cannot be traded in for cash.

"The city makes money for recycling the aluminum, and it helps pay for the recycling program," Hoppe said.

She said she thinks the council will pass the ordinance.

"I can't imagine why anyone would oppose it," she said.

Solid waste utility manager Richard Weiman wouldn't speculate about how the new city ordinance will impact the city's intake of aluminum, but he did say aluminum is a source of income for city recycling programs. The city sells three loads of aluminum each year at about 40,000 pounds per load, he said.

The current market price for recycled aluminum is about 87 cents per pound, Weiman said.

Civic Recycling owner Brett Allen said his company's volume of aluminum has risen about 40 percent since it started advertising in the spring on TV, radio, in the Add Sheet and through coupons that Civic would pay 80 cents per pound. He wouldn't comment on how the proposed city ordinance would affect this business.

"It doesn't matter because people are starting to save their cans, and they're going to start saving their other recyclables because they're going to get money for them," he said. "It's all a good thing. We're keeping more out of the waste stream."

Allen said Civic Recycling also plans to pay for plastic bottles and steel food cans in the near future.

Knight said she will probably continue collecting aluminum cans even if the city ordinance passes. After last Saturday's MU football game, Knight said, she and her son went to a parking lot off College Avenue and picked up cans until they grew tired.

The payoff: $92.



Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Mark Foecking September 11, 2008 | 9:55 a.m.

This ordinance may have unexpected consequences.

I don't use all my blue bags, so I use them to collect the aluminum that I pick up off the street. In theory, I could be fined for taking my cans to Hendrens in them, even though none of them came from blue bags. The ordinance also addresses black bags, so I'm not sure what I will run my cans to Hendrens in, unless I get some sort of red or white bags from the store.

The city has every incentive to do what they accuse blue-bag pickers of doing - take out the aluminum and landfill everything else. There is little profit in plastic, glass, and steel, and the cost of labor to sort them may not be worth it. 15% of all mixed recycling loads are landfilled because of contamination.

The city should get out of the recycling business entirely, and leave it to private concerns like Hendrens and Civic.

I can't imagine this is a big enough problem for the city to worry about.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 11, 2008 | 11:36 a.m.

The city is here to make money and as such those Blue Bags in this city make them some money from that disposable resource that alot of households just commonly throw away. It is with in their rights to do as they want with an ordinance that protects that source of income.

Now unless you want them to raise our taxes you should be all behind this ordinance and realizing that they had to enact it due to citizens ripping off their source of income.

Now if you want our City Council to raise taxes to compensate for the loss of recycling revenues I am sure you can talk to Karl Skala or any Councilman about a proposal to raise your taxes but I can assure you that alot of citizens would be looking for you in the future to possibly lynch you over the issue.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 11, 2008 | 4:21 p.m.

This is the first year that the MRF has broken even.


"[b]ooking at the city’s recycling revenues this year, it does not appear citizen collectors have made an impact[/b].

Richard Wieman, manager of the city’s solid waste utility, said that for the first eight months of the fiscal year, revenues at Columbia’s material recovery facility outpaced expenditures. That hasn’t happened since the facility opened in 2002.

Wieman said the city spent $498,677 to sort recyclables and package them for sale through May and took in $545,286 in sales. Expenses outpaced revenues in June, but Wieman said that’s probably because of a timing issue. So far this year, revenues are up $10,000 over all of last year."

If you include transportation in the costs for the blue bagf program (which is lumped in with trash collectiopn, not recycling), it still operates at a loss. A significant one.

Civic has made money doing this since it opened. Which entity is doing a more efficient job?


(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.