City adopts voucher system for trash and recycling bags

Thursday, December 11, 2008 | 12:58 p.m. CST; updated 9:59 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 11, 2008

COLUMBIA – Local musician Tom Elliott wrote a song about the city's new recycling system. The first few lines lay it out nicely: "Get your vouchers in the mail, then you take 'em to the store – when you need some bags, that's how you'll get some more!"

True to the song, the 20-year-old system of delivering trash and recycling bags is being revised to cut down on costs and clutter. Instead of delivering the bags curbside, the city will send vouchers in the mail that can be redeemed, free of charge, at local supermarkets for the black and blue collection bags.

Participating businesses

Gerbes Supermarket: 1729 W. Broadway, 205 E. Nifong, 2900 Paris Road
Hy-Vee: 3100 W. Broadway
Moser's Discount Foods, 705 Business Loop 70
Patricia's Foods: 900 N. Keene
Schnuck's Supermarket: 1400 Forum Blvd.
Westlake Ace Hardware: 1910 W. Worley, 1900 Business Loop 70 E.

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The City Council reviewed and accepted the changes introduced by the lone bidder, Phoenix Recycling, last summer. The new system is set to begin this week.

Vouchers were mailed on Monday to single-family homes and smaller apartment units that pay city utilities. The vouchers will be mailed three times a year — in April, August and December — around the 10th of each month.

"The new system saves money on man hours for delivery and on the extra bags that people don't use," said Jill Stedem, of the city's Public Works Department. "If you don't need bags, then we ask that you don't redeem the vouchers."

Stedem said the city expects to save about $260,000 a year under the revised program.

Under the old system, trucks spent eight weeks a year delivering bags, many of which went to residents who already had a surplus. The elimination of these delivery routes could also reduce the city's carbon emissions

"Residents were getting mad when the bags were delivered into gardens and even a windshield," Stedem said. "Sure, there will be a few glitches in the new system but we're prepared to work with people and deal with those issues."

Some of the issues the city expects to confront involve renters who might not receive the vouchers in the mail.

"We're trying to encourage people to continue recycling and, since everyone goes to the store, that shouldn't be a problem," Stedem said.

The clear white bags for the collection of lawn waste will still be delivered in April, though the city is revising that system, as well, with the long-term goal of sending that waste to a bio-reactor to convert it to usable energy.

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John Schultz December 11, 2008 | 1:42 p.m.

Seems like an even better solution would be to require residents to buy their own refuse bags and reduce rates, or let private trash haulers back into the Columbia marketplace. I would imagine that my private trash hauler (approximately $50 per 3 months) is very competitive when compared to what the city charges residents for their trash pickup.

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