11Questions-CynthiaMMitchell-SolidWaste

  1. Where does Columbia’s trash go? How much trash is collected in Columbia in a week?

The Columbia Sanitary Landfill, located at 5700 Peabody Road, which is city owned and operated by the solid waste utility. We collect 624 tons of residential trash, 1,902 tons of commercial trash, 158 tons of residential recycling, and 117 tons of commercial recycling every week.

  1. How have trash and recycling rates changed in the last decade?

The population growth has been the difference for residential volume, as refuse tonnages have increased, but the percentage diverted for city-collected recycling has remained fairly consistent, around 17 percent.  We see more and more pile-ups at times when people are moving, when materials and furnishings seem to have become more “disposable” to people who don’t like moving them place to place.

  1. What do we know about trash that we didn’t 20 years ago?

A few thoughts: Packaging has changed considerably, with a lot more individually packaged items, convenient for on-the-go.  There is a lot more eating out and eating on-the-go that contributes to higher food waste and food packaging in the trash. Columbia had a container deposit ordinance 20 years ago that we do not have now, so more containers go in the trash if citizens don’t participate in recycling.

  1. Are we running out of space in our dump?

It has been several decades since waste disposal has been handled as a “dump” in Missouri.  Landfills are now operated very sanitarily to protect the groundwater and air, and they’re costly to build and are regulated by multiple permits from the Department of Natural Resources. Our sanitary landfill has seven to 10 years left of space in our permitted area, depending on annual tonnage during this time, and property at the site is available for the future, permitting for approximately 50 years of disposal space.

  1. What are the consumer advantages for city owned trash collection? Disadvantages?

Refuse management is often regarded as a health issue. Columbia has an ordinance which requires property owners to have municipal trash collection, which reduces health hazards.  Residentially, this keeps the number of large commercial trucks driving the streets minimized, whereas if citizens could choose private collectors, multiple haulers would travel the streets daily, causing more wear and tear and resulting in costly road repairs. Though the city solid waste utility operates as a fee-based utility where residents pay for the services provided, private haulers are in the business for profit, which could impact rates. Also, privatizing the system would remove much of the public management that many citizens appreciate having.   There is the argument that the city operates as a monopoly; by doing so, competition is restrained, which may have effects on rates. We believe the advantages outweigh any disadvantage.

  1. Columbia voters recently voted down a change to roll carts. What was the reaction from those city employees in waste removal?

The vote was actually to restrict the city from purchasing automated residential collection equipment and changing the residential rate structure.  This did, indeed, restrict us from implementing roll carts for residential collection, but it was disappointing to the collection crew that it also restricted us from charging the citizens by the amount that they set out. It is a very noticeable disparity to the collection crews that we hoped to address through a pay-as-you-throw system, whether with bags, with roll carts, or with both.

  1. What problems are you working on solving right now?

In late April, we updated residential collection routes to rebalance areas of the city that have grown in recent years, and we added a fifth recycling route into service. This was worked on for over a year and will level out the work days for the crews. Our employee turnover rate remains high — 68 percent annually. We keep a regular hiring process in cycle to try and keep enough residential collectors hired to complete the daily routes. Continuously losing and hiring employees is costly. We will likely continue to struggle with employee injuries and the resulting worker’s compensation claims. With our recycling-to-trash diversion relatively stagnant, at 17 percent, we continually work on waste minimization programs to provide opportunities for recycling as well as education through activities of the volunteer program, tours of our facilities, and presentations to interested groups. We are working on construction of a new collection and administration facility, to be located at the landfill and material recovery site, which will provide adequate storage room for our fleet and a centralized campus of all solid waste operations. The next landfill bioreactor disposal cell will be designed this summer for construction next year. There are several issues ongoing in the CID area associated with trash and recycling collection that we’re working on, as well as working with MU staff on centralized waste and recycling services.

  1. What mistakes do citizens make most when it comes to trash removal?

Not placing materials in a bag or disposable container; placing sharp items in bags that can cut collectors; placing material out before 4:00 p.m. the day before collection day; not placing materials in the dumpster (when applicable); placing materials in a trash can (which we do not empty); placing things they do not want thrown away near their trash and recycling that are then collected when not intended to be.

  1. How many blue bag recycling vouchers are redeemed in a year?

In fiscal year 2015, 69,440 blue bag vouchers were redeemed. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, 4,897 were redeemed.

  1. How is the solid waste removal department working to be more environmentally friendly?

Since 2013, we have been transitioning to use compressed natural gas in our collection fleet.  We have expanded our commercial recycling program (including commercial food waste collection for composting), we have developed a new recycling drop-off on city owned property so it will not be removed during future developments on private property, and we expanded recycling throughout the CID area (incorporated in rate structure for all customers within the CID), to name a few projects. The ONS Volunteer Program, which supports our programs, is in their second season of Recycling Ambassador training and utilization, and they recently did the first city waste sort on Earth Day in several years.

  1. What’s something someone might not know about your job?

The variety of work I get to do spanning the many programs we have associated with collections, disposal, and recovery of materials, including personnel management, fiscal planning and budgeting, project planning and management, and the regulatory compliance involved.

Bonus: What’s it like having a job associated with things people don’t want?

I believe there is a growing number in the population who do care about the environmental and  natural resource side of discarded materials — ways to minimize, repurpose, or recycle items and what impact we can make on the sustainability of how we live.

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