Business Owners Demand More Accountability in Downtown Trash Disposal

Jul 10, 2018

Credit Meiying Wu/KBIA

Columbia residents and business owners encouraged the city to add more accessible recycling locations downtown during a public meeting Monday night.

The purpose of the meeting, held by the Solid Waste Utility, was to brainstorm solutions for trash and recycling collection for those who live and work in the area boxed in by Broadway and Cherry, Eighth and Ninth streets. Nearby businesses include Tellers Gallery and Bar and Broadway Brewery. Most of the meeting focused on the alley that runs through the middle of the area, where six dumpsters are located.

About 10 people attended. Steve Hunt, solid waste utility manager, gave a presentation on the state of trash and recycling collection and proposals to improve it. He asked attendees for their opinions and recommendations.

Hunt said that in his experience, trash compactors are more effective than traditional dumpsters because they have more storage volume. In his presentation, he listed four potential options for the alley: removing dumpsters and adding a compactor; having no containers at all; spreading the containers out through the alley; and no change.

Deb Rust, one of the owners of Tellers at 820 E. Broadway, proposed placing three recycling bins and three trash dumpsters in the alley instead of a trash compactor. 

"I think recycling is half of the issue," she said. 

Rust said she thinks people want to recycle, but they just don't have the opportunity.

There was recycling in the alley, Hunt said, but about three years ago the bins were removed after a complaint.

Rust noted people and businesses often throw their recycling in with their trash, condemning it to the landfill and causing dumpsters to overflow.

According to Val DeBrunce, a self-described freelance volunteer, the lack of accountability for trash and recycling disposal downtown plays a role in improper waste disposal. 

Trash and recycling downtown is paid for by the Downtown Community Improvement District. Users's utility bills are based on which of three classes they fall under, and their bills are not affected by how much, how often or where the trash is dumped.

Patricia Weisenfelder, community relations specialist for the City of Columbia Utilities, has noticed that much of the trash and recycling is not sorted into proper disposal containers. This, she said in an interview before the meeting, shows that trash disposal and recycling is a group effort and everyone needs to be held accountable. 

Because everyone living within the CID borders pays for the CID, everyone has access to whichever dumpster they choose, Weisenfelder said. That means businesses and other customers aren't directly responsible for the dumpsters they use.

DeBrunce suggested that monitoring the dumpsters for traceable items like receipts and bills could encourage people to dispose of their waste more responsibly.

"You can find some form of paper with an address on it in almost any trash dumpster," DeBrunce said.

DeBrunce is working to fix another major trash disposal issue: food waste. Multiple people voiced complaints about cooking oil and grease seeping through bags and forming puddles in the alleyway. Hunt said cooking oil and grease disposal are handled by private companies, not the city.

Food waste and grease was one reason the Columbia City Council voted to approve buying a property at 912 E. Walnut St. in May. Plans to use the site for trash collection and recycling were briefly discussed at Monday's meeting.

Hunt's presentation covered a proposed food waste collection program that would serve the CID specifically and be separate from the city-wide food waste collection program. If the proposal is approved, 35-gallon food waste bins would be put inside businesses.

Business owners would be responsible for disposing the waste and would see the cost of the bins reflected in their trash collection utility bills. DeBrunce said he thinks this will help alleviate community dumpster overflowing.