COLUMBIA — In February, plastic bins were distributed to 1,800 homes in three neighborhoods north of Interstate 70. The bins are part of a pilot program aimed at increasing recycling rates in Columbia. So far, it's proving to be effective.
The pilot program — which lasts until February 2011 — has already exceeded city expectations; after three months, the program has already shown a 10- to 14-percent increase in the weight of products being recycled, according to a previous Missourian article. This is more than double the city's initial goal of a 5-percent weight increase.
Participants in the pilot program described the bins as "simple" and more visible reminders to recycle, according to the Missourian article; Public Works staff have observed an approximate 25-percent increase in the number of homes recycling since February.
Meanwhile, Columbia's current recycling system, in place since 1993, may not be meeting the city's needs. According to the Public Works Department, residential recycling has not kept pace with population growth. The standard blue bags are less accessible — residents must collect them from participating stores — and can't be reused.
The costs of the two models are comparable: Participants in the pilot program receive two reusable bins, which cost the city $11.60 per household; this could decrease if bins were bought in greater bulk. Residents elsewhere receive vouchers for up to 54 nonreusable bags per year, which cost the city $11.88 per household per year.
The pilot program isn't currently available for the whole city and needs "tweaking" before it can be applied citywide. Over the next several months, pilot leaders will try to make bin routes more efficient and may make changes to the container itself. They will also explore funding options for expansion of the program, which could be considered by the City Council next year.
Should Columbia change its recycling program to a bin system?