Columbia launches campaign to counter recycling decline

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:09 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The city of Columbia is starting a new initiative aimed at making recycling easier for residents by educating people on how to recycle while also making the sorting process simpler. Waste Minimization Supervisor Layli Terrill describes what items the city will and will not accept and also explains how the new program will make recycling easier.

COLUMBIA — Folks in charge of the city's recycling efforts have made a New Year’s resolution to gain weight. They hope, that is, to increase the total amount of recyclables collected from homes at the curbside by 5 percent.

Although Columbia’s population has continued to grow, residential recycling has not grown in recent years, according to the Public Works Department. Estimates show that only about 28 percent of Columbia residents recycle.

Columbia recycling links

You can learn about the city's recycling program on the Solid Waste Division's Web site. Here are some helpful links:

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Data from the Solid Waste Division for calendar years 2008 and 2009 show recycling per household decreased by almost 12 pounds per person. In 2008, the city collected 666 tons more recyclable material than it did in 2009.

Another problem is that the amount of contaminants found among recyclables has steadily increased. Contaminants are materials such as plastic foam and certain plastics that the Columbia recycling center cannot process.

Separating contaminants slows the recycling process for employees and costs enough to make covering expenses at the recycling facility impossible, said Richard Wieman, solid waste utility manager.

“Ninety-eight to 99 percent of people that recycle want to do the right thing, (but) if they put a lot of material in the blue bag that is not recyclable, collectors see it, and they are just going to throw it away because they can’t get the recyclables out,” Wieman said.

The Public Works Department has hired Pure, a Columbia advertising agency, to help residents sort out ways to recycle more often and effectively. The mixed-media project, aimed at increasing education and awareness, kicked off this month.

The campaign will focus particular attention on educating the public on acceptable materials to recycle. Most paper products and glass can be recycled, but the Columbia recycling facility only processes No. 1 and No. 2 plastics. Examples would be two-liter bottles or laundry detergent containers. Plastics labeled as No. 3 through No. 7 include PVC pipe, Pyrex, most Tupperware, shrink wrap, Styrofoam, bottle caps and Heidelburg cups.

“Different programs do different things,” Weiman said. For example, a consumer might buy a computer that the manufacturer says is recyclable, but Columbia's program doesn't deal with electronic waste. "So, I think really it’s about understanding and getting the information out.”

Along with an effort to improve curbside recycling, the city and Pure are trying to boost awareness of recycling options for apartment dwellers. The city makes recycling containers available to most apartment complexes on a rotating basis. Columbia also offers a “where to recycle” guide on its Web site.

There will also be a focus on using the city-issued blue bags. Because not everyone chooses to recycle and the bags themselves are not recyclable, the city stopped delivering them to residents to reduce waste and cost. Instead, the city now sends vouchers to homes, allowing residents to pick up blue bags for free at several Columbia locations.

Wieman said the Solid Waste Division also plans a pilot program involving reusable plastic recycling bins later in the year. While the program has already been approved, the division is seeking City Council approval to try the bins on Friday recycling routes north of Interstate 70. The experiment would include 1,800 homes.

The recycling campaign plans to engage residents using traditional media such as television, radio and newspaper ads but also will tap into social media such as Twitter and Facebook to reach key demographics.

More than 49,000 Columbians use Facebook actively, according to a news release from the Solid Waste Division. The Facebook page, “Columbia Recycles,” has been gaining fans by the day.

Erica Pefferman, vice president of Pure, said one of the messages the campaign is trying to convey is that recycling is easy.

“I think people expect it to be complicated,” Pefferman said. But as the newest TV ad suggests, “even a Jayhawk can do it.”

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Bruce Smith January 27, 2010 | 6:13 a.m.

Let's see... The city is spending money on a public relations firm to advertise for more people to recycle when the cost of recycling is much more than the revenues it produces...Sounds like govenment (or Jayhawk) economics to me. Besides, the commercials are really lame.

(Report Comment)
manny boseph January 27, 2010 | 2:29 p.m.

I noticed in my neighborhood that once the city stopped dropping off recycling bags, fewer houses had blue bags on their lawn on trash day.

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