Sustainability Notebook: Columbia mulls food waste; hazardous materials break records

The Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District held its monthly meeting July 11. There, the district — which helps fund and coordinate recycling and waste efforts across eight mid-Missouri counties — discussed food waste laws, the upcoming Fix-It-Fair and this year’s record-breaking hazardous waste collection event.

Here are some highlights from the meeting:

Food waste challenges

An unscheduled visitor at the meeting raised concerns that a Columbia ordinance is thwarting what some see as a relatively simple solution to diverting food waste from the city’s landfill.

Columbia resident Steve Callis asked the board to pressure the Columbia City Council to change a law that prevents private companies from collecting trash in the city, including food scraps. Current law makes it illegal for anyone but the city to “haul, convey, carry or transport any garbage from any location within the city.”

Callis said that changing the ordinance would help divert food waste from the city’s landfill. According to Columbia, more than 17 percent of its landfill waste is food. Private companies that specialize in hauling and processing food waste have approached Columbia in the past, only to hit a wall because of city law.

But the district board can’t make specific recommendations or voice support for specific ordinances, said M.L. Cauthon, the board’s chair. “I don’t believe it’s appropriate, for this body, anyway, to influence or comment or criticize some other jurisdiction’s ordinances,” he said.

Therefore, the board voted to send a non-binding, general letter of support to the city council in favor of any measures that will help divert the city’s food waste.

Currently, Columbia runs a commercial composting program that mostly serves grocers, said Patricia Weisenfelder, a city spokesperson. But while there’s no sign the city will adopt a residential program anytime soon, she said, Columbia is hoping to start a food waste pilot project that would include businesses within the downtown district by October.

Fix-It-Fair returns

Columbia’s second annual Fix-It-Fair is almost here. The fair, which helps teach residents how to fix broken items themselves, is scheduled to take place July 28 at the city’s Armory Sports and Recreation Center.

At the event, people can learn to repair things like ripped clothing and fabric, or even appliances and electronics, the Columbia Missourian reports. That is, except for microwaves and CRT monitors.

Lelande Rehard, district manager for the waste management district, said next year’s fair may take place in Mexico, Missouri. “We spoke with their housing authority there,” he said. “They seemed interested in it.”

Big turnout, big numbers

The numbers are in for the district’s annual household hazardous waste collection event held in Columbia, and officials said it was a record-breaking year.

The one-day event, which was held back in June, allows Missouri residents to drop off things like paint, tires, electronics and other hard-to-recycle materials for free, or a small fee.

But after the district increased its advertising for the event in recent years, the turnout for it skyrocketed, Rehard said.

Here are some numbers from this year’s event:

  • 740 cars drove through the line, often waiting an hour or more to drop off waste
  • 13 tons of household hazardous waste was collected this year, up from 4.5 tons last year
  • 34 tons of electronic waste was collected, bringing in about $2,500 for the city in fees
  • The city spent more than $23,000 to run the event

While that price tag is higher than past years, Cauthon said, it’s only because the event’s popularity has grown so much. “We get enough good response in the community, and it’s worth it,” he said.

Missouri Business Alert’s sustainability coverage is funded in part by the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District.

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