A key reason for the changes to Columbia’s residential trash collection system is equity for customers.

That was part of the message Steve Hunt, Solid Waste manager for the city of Columbia Utilities, discussed in a recent meeting with Boone County Muleskinners.

“Customers that put out one bag of trash or two bags of trash each week pay the same amount as their neighbor down the street who may put out 10 bags of trash,” Hunt said. “I’ve heard from several customers over the years that didn’t think that was a fair or equitable method for collection.”

City Council approved the changes during its Sept. 21 meeting. On Nov. 1, many of these changes went into effect. The last of them will go into effect Feb. 1. Hunt said in addition to equity, the new guidelines will improve working conditions for the Solid Waste staff.

Hunt said the Nov. 1 changes, which are currently enforced, include:

  • All material placed at the curb for trash collection must be in bags weighing less than 50 lbs each.
  • Residents must schedule bulky item collection at least a week in advance and will be charged $21.50 per pickup for the first item and $5 per additional item during the same pickup. Each residential customer can have one bulk item collected at no charge each year. Bulky item collection will occur one day after your normal trash collection.

Appliance collection will continue in the normal scheduled process, but the rate has increased to $21.50 per appliance without refrigerants and $29 for items with refrigerants.

Beginning Feb. 1, the following changes will be implemented:

  • All material placed at the curb for collection must be in city provided bags with the city logo. These bags will be distributed through a voucher program. They are the same size and thickness as previous city-provided bags.
  • A code enforcement staff member will monitor residential areas to ensure waste is being disposed of correctly and address unlawfully placed material or dumping as necessary.

The new system allows each residential customer about two city logo refuse bags per week. In 2019, Solid Waste Collection recorded that each customer produced an average of 40 lbs of trash each week. The new two-bags-per-week system will allow for up to 100 lbs of trash each week.

Bag vouchers can be redeemed at local stores including Gerbes, Hy-Vee, Moser’s, Menards and Schnucks. Customers can also purchase additional bags in five-count rolls for $10 per roll. Each bag costs $2 to account for the landfill disposal fee of $1.37, the collection time charge of $0.33 and the actual cost of the bag, which is $0.30. There is no limit to the number of bags placed at the curb.

The second goal of the recent changes — improving working conditions — comes as no surprise. The residential waste and recycling collection staff has had incredibly high numbers of workers’ compensation claims for both mild and severe injuries over the past few years.

Previous Missourian reporting shows that, between 2006 and 2016, the collection operations accrued $1.46 million in compensation claims. Many of these injuries were sprains or strains caused by slipping and falling while getting in and out of the trucks, but there have also been reports of severe and even fatal injuries.

Hunt said these changes, once implemented, will reduce the volume and weight of trash, which will in turn reduce the “wear and tear” on collection staff. He does not think workers compensation claims will go away entirely.

“We’re still going to have employees out in the elements, climbing on and off the trucks, operating vehicles. ... They’re still picking up bags from about 900 homes each and every day,” Hunt said. “It’s going to be better, so I’m anticipating less frequent and less severe injuries, but we will still see some injuries.”

Hunt also addressed the $5 per hour add-pay for collection workers that was approved at the Sept. 21 council meeting. The extra pay is only for time that workers spend physically working on the trucks for residential collection. Hunt anticipated more workers to transfer to residential collection for the pay increase and was surprised when many did not.

“I assumed the $5 would be a pretty good enticement and we’d see some benefit from that, but it hasn’t materialized,” Hunt said. “It’s less about the money and more about the type of work involved.”

The solid waste collection staff is split up into residential and commercial collection workers. Out of the 31 full-time positions for commercial waste collection, only about five are vacant, according to Hunt. Out of the 28 full time positions for residential waste collection, 12 are vacant.

These vacancies are the main reason why curbside recycling has not yet resumed. Hunt said as soon as it is possible to resume the service, Solid Waste will.

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