City considers new way to pass out bags

The plan would end the home delivery method.
Thursday, June 14, 2007 | 12:30 a.m. CDT; updated 9:46 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Starting this December, you might have to pencil one more item onto your grocery list, but it won’t cost you anything.

The city of Columbia will sack its traditional delivery of blue recycling bags every April, August and December if a proposal by Public Works Director John Glascock receives the City Council’s approval. Instead, the city would mail residents coupons redeemable for the bags at area grocery stores.

Glascock said the coupons could save the city enough money each year to buy a new garbage truck — an estimated $238,125. It would also address neighbors’ complaints about receiving too many recycling bags.

“The primary goal of the coupon system is to get residents the number of bags and the types of bags that they want and need,” said Richard Wieman, solid waste utility manager.

The plan, introduced at the council’s annual retreat last weekend, calls for coupons to also be mailed for black garbage bags by December 2008. Clear yard waste bags would likely continue being delivered until October 2009, when the city would begin allowing grass clippings and raked up leaves to be lumped in with normal garbage.

Glascock said coupons would curb liability concerns associated with an outdated and dangerous bag delivery system.

Since the 1970s, Columbia has delivered trash bags using a method reminiscent of a souped-up paperboy service. City employees ride in the back of pickups and toss several-month supplies of bags into neighbors’ yards and driveways.

Glascock said the bags often hit parked cars, mailboxes and lawn ornaments. Sometimes, the wrappers holding the bags land in mud puddles or break when they hit the ground, sending them scattering. Deliverers occasionally skip homes altogether.

The city has also had problems with bag thieves who follow the pickups and steal the bags, Glascock said.

But some council members are wondering why the delivery method needs to be fixed when the public doesn’t seem to think it’s broken.

“The general population of Columbia is very pleased with our waste disposal,” Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku said. “There are operational problems with the present system, but you hate to change something the public is pleased with.”

Janku also worried about Columbia’s large college population, who might not get the durable recycling and garbage bags if they aren’t delivered directly to their new homes.

“For students moving into apartments, when they come back in August, will they be sent the coupons?” Janku said. “These bags are stronger than a lot of the other bags you’d find in stores, and that’s important for keeping neighborhoods clean.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe both said mailing coupons for just recycling bags might cut recycling rates by making it less convenient.

“Will the coupons have a negative impact on people, especially with the blue bag recycling”? Wade said. “Will they start throwing recycling material in with the garbage bags?”

To keep kinks in a new system from affecting the entire city, Hoppe suggested a pilot program to mail coupons for both blue recycling and black garbage bags at the same time but in a smaller section of the city.

“My concern is having a test area, so that if we have problems, you’re not looking at those problems over a big area but a little one,” Hoppe said.

At the retreat, the council asked that Public Works study the matter further and come back with a report by the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

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