Residents meet with sustainability manager to discuss energy

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:41 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 19, 2010

COLUMBIA — Columbia's new sustainability manager is encouraging all residents to adopt sustainable practices, including recycling and carpooling.

Barbara Buffaloe was hired through an energy block grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in February. At a meeting with Columbia residents Tuesday night, Buffaloe detailed the plans she has to make the city's buildings more energy efficient, using money from the same block grant. She also solicited input from the roughly 50 residents who attended about what else can be done to make Columbia sustainable.

One of her plans builds on part of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement that former Mayor Darwin Hindman signed in July 2006. Through the agreement, Hindman ensured that Columbia would attempt to meet certain elements in its quest for sustainability. One of those requirements was conducting an emissions inventory, which was completed in 2007.

Buffaloe has created an action plan, both for internal government operations and external non-government operations, based on the results of the emissions inventory. She has planned an assessment of 60 of the city's facilities, which she is hoping to have completed by the end of the year. Through this assessment, the city will set a benchline for its energy use and then attempt to reduce that use. Buffaloe is also hoping to create an interactive map through this assessment, detailing how city buildings  stack up against each other in terms of energy use.

"I'm hoping for a competition," Buffaloe said.

In addition to her plans for city buildings, Buffaloe is hoping to establish a sustainability advisory board to foster community involvement in the city's sustainability practices.

Buffaloe's position is currently funded through the energy block grant. At the meeting, Buffaloe said she hopes to fund the position and grow the office of sustainability through money saved from the energy changes she is hoping to implement.

Recycling proved to be an important issue when residents got a chance to voice opinions and suggest improvements during the meeting. Many residents expressed concerns that the city isn't doing enough to promote recycling and that the recycling program is not a profitable one for the city.

"Our recycling program consistently operates in the red," Buffaloe said. She said the city is working on a long-term plan to eventually be able to accept all types of plastics at recycling facilities.

Currently, the city only accepts plastics that have a No. 1 or a No. 2 in a triangle on the underside. Every desk in the new city building has a recycling container, which is picked up separately from the trash containers, Buffaloe said.

In addition, the Public Works Department is starting a new campaign to increase recycling in Columbia. The department is attempting to encourage more recycling in Columbia, including starting a Facebook page called Columbia Recycle.

Many residents also voiced concerns about the city's fleet of vehicles. While she doesn't know if the city is considering downsizing its number of cars, Buffaloe said the city is introducing hybrid vehicles into its fleet.

Buffaloe also prompted residents to encourage sustainable behaviors in others. She said she's always watching to see if co-workers use both sides of the paper when printing or if they use paper plates as opposed to washable plates when eating.

When asked whether she felt support from the new City Council, which was not in effect when Hindman signed the climate protection agreement, Buffaloe said she is saving money, so she feels supported.


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Mark Foecking May 19, 2010 | 7:54 a.m.

Unfortunately, accepting all forms of plastics will only make the recycling program operate deeper in the red.

The only recyclable currently that pays for the cost of sorting it is aluminum. Aluminum pays part of the way for plastics and paper, since the market price for these things is not enough to cover the cost of sorting and bundling.

However, even in the worst of times, the recycling program costs Columbians about $5/person/year. Thbat's not a lot to pay for keeping valuable materials out of the landfill.


(Report Comment)
A Zumwalt May 19, 2010 | 9:23 a.m.
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A Zumwalt May 19, 2010 | 9:27 a.m.
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