COLUMBIA — The reusable bins that were purchased for 1,800 homes as part of a pilot recycling program are proving to be effective, though some tweaking still needs to be done if the bins are to replace the blue bag system citywide.
The homes involved in the pilot program, which began at the end of February and will continue through February 2011, are located north of Interstate 70 in the Parkade, Hunter's Gate and Vanderveen neighborhoods, which all have Friday trash pickup.
If residents in the area of the pilot program find they have recycling overflow from week to week, they may call Waste Minimization Supervisor Layli Terrill at 573-874-6291 to request additional bins.
"I think it's a great program," said Lynn McKinney, 64, a resident of the Parkade neighborhood. "Everybody uses (the bins) because it's so simple."
The 18-gallon bins were bought with a $30,400 grant from Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District and the Department of Natural Resources to take the place of the blue plastic bags to hold recyclables.
Between Feb. 26 and March 26 — the first full month the reusable bins were used — the weight of recycled products in the Hunter's Gate and Vanderveen neighborhoods increased by 10.7 percent from the previous year. The amount increased even more in the Parkade neighborhood, a 14.8 percent increase from the previous year, according to the recycling activities report.
The pilot program's goal was to increase curbside recycling by 5 percent. Just within the first month, this number has already been doubled, said Solid Waste Utility Manager Richard Wieman.
Layli Terrill, waste minimization supervisor for the city, said that by personally observing the neighborhoods, she would estimate there has been about a 25 percent increase in the number of homes that have started to recycle since February.
The bins have become a permanent fixture, whereas bags can easily be hidden, said Don Spradling, president of the Parkade Neighborhood Association.
"The kids see it and help remind us we need to recycle," he said. "When your 5-year-old daughter says, 'Doesn't that kill a dolphin, Daddy?' it's hard not to recycle."
From bags to bins
The city's current recycling method using the blue bags has been in place since 1993, according to Columbia's Solid Waste Management records.
The city moved away from providing each household with recycling bags after thousands of bags went unused, according to the Public Works Department. Now, vouchers are placed in mailboxes every April, August and December, so residents can obtain the blue recycling bags at participating stores throughout Columbia.
"The problem with this system is they don't know what to do with the blue bags after they empty the recyclables," Spradling said. "They're creating even more waste to be put into landfills."
The original plan was for the bags to be recycled along with the contents inside, Terrill said. But after the recyclable items are thrown in the back of the trucks, they're compacted to fit more contents into each truck. This causes the glass products to break and embed glass particles into the bags, making them no longer recyclable, she said.
Each reusable bin for the pilot area costs the city $5.80, Terrill said, and each residence receives two bins — green for fiber and blue for containers.
The yearly cost of the 54 blue bags provided for each residence in the city is $11.88, Wieman said, meaning the reusable bins and the blue plastic bags end up costing roughly the same amount. Terrill said the price of the bins could decrease if they are bought in bulk for the whole city.
"We would go out and look for the best and lowest offer," Terrill said. "Just because it's the lowest doesn't mean it's going to fit the city's needs."
Adjusting the program
The switch to bins is not without its own difficulties.
Wieman said though he likes the concept of "recycling by using a reusable product," the days last longer for the trucks with routes in the pilot areas. It takes more time to grab the bins from the curb, carry them to the truck, dump them out and return the bin to the curb, rather than simply tossing a bag into the back of the truck, he said.
Although the bins are getting use within the pilot program neighborhoods, some residents have complaints about the logistics of using two large bins instead of bags.
"As an elderly woman, it would be beneficial to have wheels on the bottom of the bins to make them easier to get out to the curb," McKinney said.
Terrill said residents have been calling her office to suggest improvements to the program. Some of the suggestions were to slightly change the design of the bins, such as putting a lid on them to prevent paper products from getting wet and heavy when it rains.
"There has been about a 4-to-1 or even higher ratio of positive-to-negative comments we've heard," Wieman said.
The city is taking into consideration the suggestions from the public about tweaking the program.
"The great thing about this pilot program is using a reusable container," Terrill said. "Now, we need to figure out what the best reusable container is."
Future of the pilot
If the recycled weight percentages continue to increase to the point where it becomes desirable to expand the program throughout Columbia, administrators would have to brainstorm ways to fund the cost of supplying the rest of the city with recycling bins, Stedem said.
McKinney suggested the city collect money for recycled cans accumulated in the current bins to save up to buy bins for the rest of the city.
Spradling suggested selling a two-tier rack on wheels to residents for a small profit. The rack would have wheels, so it would be easier for residents to move their recycling out to the curb, and the profit could be put toward purchasing bins for the rest of the city.
There is no benchmark percentage the pilot program has to reach in order to get the reusable bins approved for the rest of the city. When the test ends in February 2011, a grant report, tonnage report and residents' comments will be presented to City Council to deliberate.
"The whole program is subject to council review," Wieman said.