A weekly routine for thousands of Columbia residents was upended a few weeks ago when the city suspended curbside recycling because of staff shortages. Now, there are many lingering questions on how to recycle, and some are even questioning if the material is being recycled. We understand that this could reduce participation in our recycling programs, and we want to make sure that all questions are fully addressed.
We should probably start by noting that the suspension of curbside recycling did not eliminate all recycling in Columbia. We still collect recycling from commercial and industrial properties, apartment complexes, special events, 11 recycling centers in Columbia and four recycling centers throughout Boone County. The suspension of curbside recycling only changed how we collect the material from residents in Columbia. Anyone who previously had curbside recycling is now asked to use the recycling centers when going to/from work or running errands. The material will be processed the same way as before, and there will be less strain on our existing Solid Waste staff.
The recycling centers are less convenient for residents, but we are working on solutions that should be implemented in the near future. Meanwhile, we must focus on the system that is currently in place and educate residents on how to recycle at these locations.
The silver lining from this situation, which many avid recyclers should appreciate, is that we no longer need the blue plastic bags that were used for curbside recycling. These bags were expensive and, most importantly, were not recyclable. The irony of using a nonrecyclable plastic bag to recycle a plastic water bottle was a very clear sign that our curbside collection methods were less than adequate. The only reason they were used in curbside collection is for our Solid Waste staff to know which bag is for the trash truck and which one is for the recycling truck. Now, when using a recycling center, the color distinction is no longer necessary and your recycling can be placed directly into the appropriate dumpster.
The dumpsters at each recycling center are labeled for “mixed fiber” and “mixed container” recycling. Any dumpster that has a mixed fiber sign can receive paper products: cardboard, newspaper, magazines, office paper, mail envelopes and paper bags. The dumpster for mixed containers can receive everything that was previously placed in your blue plastic bag. This can include plastic, aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars and metal food cans. Depending on the recycling center, you might notice that mixed fiber dumpsters are usually painted blue and mixed container dumpsters are painted green. This is not always the case, so it is very important that you read the sign and not rely entirely on the dumpster color.
When you are ready to visit a recycling center, the best practice is to transport your recycling in a reusable plastic tub and then empty the loose material directly into a dumpster. You can continue to use plastic bags, but this will create more work for our staff since the bags need to be torn open to access the material inside.
Please remember to fold all cardboard boxes and utilize the entire recycling dumpster. It might appear to be overflowing in the front, but there could be space in the back or middle sections. In any case, please do not place your recycling on the ground. We try to service all locations multiple times per day, but the process takes longer when a driver needs to clear a path to the dumpster and pick up everything on the ground.
Lastly, you should be aware of a new program that was started a few months ago. In effort to improve the quality of our glass recycling, we deployed glass-only dumpsters at two of the recycling centers: Home Depot and State Farm Parkway. These purple dumpsters should help improve the quality of our glass and working conditions at our recycling facility. You can continue to mix glass with other recyclables, but we encourage you to use this program if you are willing to separate the glass from everything else. In this case, it is very important that only glass enters the dumpster — no plastic bags or cardboard boxes. We expect to add more recycling centers and glass-only dumpsters in the future. In the meantime, we greatly appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to improve our recycling programs.
Please go to the city of Columbia website (CoMo.gov/utilities/solidwaste) or download our phone app, COMO Recycle and Trash, for more information. An interactive map of our recycling centers can be found at gis.gocolumbiamo.com/recycling.
Ben Kreitner is the Waste Minimization Coordinator for the city of Columbia’s Office of Sustainability. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Missouri Recycling Association.