Columbia saves big with bag voucher system

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The city’s switch to a voucher system for distributing garbage and recycling bags already is saving big money: Public Works spokeswoman Jill Stedem estimates the city will spend $260,000 less on bags and their delivery in fiscal 2009 alone.

The city used to deliver garbage and recycling bags to about 35,000 single-family homes and apartment buildings. In December, however, officials decided to instead send bag vouchers with customers’ utility bills. The vouchers are redeemable at seven local retail stores.

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To learn more about the bag voucher system, go to

The new system appears to be working.

“Surprisingly, we have received very few complaints. The main ones are from people who may not have gotten a voucher for some reason,” Stedem said. “It is estimated to save about $260,000 for the city from people not redeeming the vouchers. Many people were getting more bags than they needed.”  

Stedem said in April that city utility customers redeemed 9,732 vouchers for black garbage bags and 8,099 for blue recycling bags at a cost to the city of $78,880. The city would have spent $235,353 to deliver bags the old way, she said.

Through the end of March, the city had saved a total of $156,472 with the new method, Stedem said, and savings could end up above or below the $260,000 estimate, depending on how many people use their vouchers.

Moser's Discount Foods on Business Loop 70 West is one of the participating stores that redeems vouchers. Night supervisor Rita Shore said “bags are flying off the shelves."

Bill Chriscoe, manager of the Schnucks on Forum Boulevard, said bags are going quickly there as well.

Schnucks shopper Emily Griffard, however, said she’s having trouble adjusting to the new system.

“It was so much easier with the old system,” Griffard said. “I kept forgetting to bring my voucher to the store, and I ended up having to buy bags.”  

Griffard said her neighbors also seem to be recycling less because they don’t have bags when they need them.

The vouchers are good for 25 trash bags or 18 recycling bags. The city will replace lost recycling bag vouchers but not garbage bag vouchers. Residences are to receive one voucher for garbage bags and one for recycling bags in April, August and December each year. The vouchers expire after three months.

Homeowners can expect the next round of vouchers with their utility bills around Aug. 10.

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Bryan Ross May 20, 2009 | 11:56 a.m.

If Public Works is serious about saving money it would eliminate the bag program altogether and allow residents to put their own containers out on the curb. Not allowing that is not only inconvenient, but it costs taxpayers money.

(Report Comment)
Joanne Sumner May 27, 2009 | 6:09 p.m.

I think the voucher system is a good idea! Also, really well written story! :)

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 27, 2009 | 7:52 p.m.

I think one of the reasons they use the bags is it cuts down on injuries for the collectors. Refuse collection is one of the most dangerous jobs around, believe it or not, and most of it is due to back injuries from lifting too much.

The bags break if they're too heavy. Garbage cans don't.

The cost to the taxpayers in providing the bags is likely offset by the amount of workers comp it saves.


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