Vouchers help Columbia save big on trash bags

Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The city has saved much more than expected by switching to a voucher system for distributing garbage and recycling bags.

The city saved a total of $671,474 from Dec. 1, 2008 through Jan. 31 of this year, according to a report given to the City Council by Solid Waste Utility Manager Richard Weiman.


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The extra money could result in the city reducing monthly bills for collecting trash and recyclables, Weiman said.

Rather than drop the bags in residents' front yards, the city now mails vouchers to utility customers that they can redeem for bags at local retailers.

"The program is designed to get the residents the trash and recycling bags that they need or want," Weiman said.

Residents under the voucher system have used less than half the number of bags the city used to deliver. That alone has saved the city more than $540,000, according to Weiman's  report.

In 14 months, residents redeemed 57,853 vouchers for black garbage bags and 50,176 for blue recycling bags at a cost to the city of $451,050. Under the old system, the total spending on bags would have been near $1 million.

Some of the savings came from the fact that the city no longer is delivering bags to 900 vacant homes.

The vouchers have also saved Columbia $110,000 on delivery costs and eliminated $11,000 in advertising expenses. The city used to buy radio time and newspaper ads to tell people that bags were about to be delivered.

Weiman said the public appears to like the vouchers. "We have received around 10 negative calls and 500 to 600 positive ones over the whole period."

There have been a handful of complaints that residents have to put in extra effort to get bags, he said.

"Typically, people get bags while shopping," said Sherri Chrisman, customer service manager of the Hy-Vee grocery store at 405 E. Nifong Blvd. The store has participated in the voucher program since it opened in November.

"We haven't heard any complaints over the vouchers from customers," Chrisman said.

One problem, Weiman said, is that some people don't get vouchers if their mailing information doesn't match their mailbox.

Westlake Ace Hardware, 1900 Business Loop 70 E., also redeems vouchers. The program has attracted more customers, assistant manager David Hoppock said.

There are 12 locations where people can redeem vouchers; the city plans to set up another at the Hy-Vee on West Broadway in April.

Any grocery or hardware store can sign up for the program by calling the Public Works Department at 874-7291.

Weiman discouraged residents from buying their own bags. "The city prefers the residents use the black trash bags because of the quality compared to what they would buy at the local stores."

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daisy obrien March 4, 2010 | 9:28 a.m.

I don't think this program is "saving" the city or it's residents any money. We were being charged for the bags to be delivered to our homes. We still are being charged for the bags to be delivered to our homes, except that they now have to be picked up by residents at stores. All residents are still paying for a service that has been discontinued. I haven't used a single voucher because the bags aren't available at any store I shop at. Aldi, Walmart, Target, Eastgate or Clovers. I have stopped recycling since the blue bags are no longer delivered. I live in East Campus and there are almost no blue bags in our neighborhood. Trust me, that is a bunch of aluminum not being recycled. The city should do a better job of managing the delivery system. Don't deliver to empty houses. Don't advertise that the bags are going to be delivered. Reconcile your addresses and recipients with their billing statements. The city's "savings" of $540,000 is actually residents paying for bags they didn't receive. I would be interested to know how much less recycling the city is now doing in comparison to when the bags were delivered.

(Report Comment)
Haotao Xiong March 4, 2010 | 5:41 p.m.

Thanks a lot for your comment. In the past year, the recycling has declined for a little bit. But the person I have interviewed, Richard Weiman said it was unclear whether the decline was related the bad economy or the voucher program. As for many shops don't participate in, reasons could vary. In the interview, Richard Weiman told me that the complexity of Wal-Mart's inner accounting system might be one reason.

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