Rachel Proffitt moved to Colombia in 2016 and didn’t know that some towns didn’t use garbage carts.
“When we got here, we were kind of like, ‘Well, where’s the trash?’,” recalls Proffitt.
His family’s landlord had to explain that garbage in Columbia goes on the sidewalk in bags.
That same year — 2016 — was when 54% of city voters said they wanted rolling carts banned from Columbia sidewalks.
Solid Waste Advocacy Group member Chuck Headley thought the vote sent a direct message to city council.
“If citizens have said they want to leave it that way, then what are the reasons for not doing so?” he asked in an article published in The Missourian at the time.
But that vote and its impact are now a point of contention. To make matters worse for Proffitt, the city suspended curbside recycling in 2021.
“It was kind of the last straw,” Proffitt said.
This prompted her to become the organizer and founder of the Facebook group Columbia MO Citizens for Roll Carts.
City Hall was packed on March 21 as community members came out to watch the city council officially receive certification of a petition to repeal city ordinances banning the use of rolling carts that were enacted in following the 2016 referendum.
The potential repeal comes after a petition signed by 3,244 people reached the city clerk’s office on Feb. 7.
Rolling cart opponents are gearing up for another battle — and some citizens and candidates fear reopening the rolling cart issue.
At a forum hosted by the Columbia Disability Issues Coalition, Third Ward Council member Karl Skala assured those listening that the issue would soon be resolved.
Skala will have the most immediate impact on the carriage debate of any candidate running in the April 5 election. City Council is expected to decide at its regular April 4 meeting whether to vote to scrap the rolling cart ban or put it on the August ballot for voters to decide again.
“The solution is on the horizon, and we will decide one way or another,” he said.
Currently, the city uses a modified “Pay As You Throw” program. According to the City of Columbia’s website, the program “promotes conservation and improves working conditions for staff.”
Residents receive vouchers twice a year. In January, the vouchers include two vouchers for rolls of 26 trash bags and two vouchers for rolls of 18 recycling bags. In June, community members receive two vouchers for trash bags and one for recycling bags.
“You can help us save costs by redeeming vouchers only when you need extra bags,” the city’s website says.
Residents can purchase additional bags in rolls of five for $10.
Third Ward candidate Roy Lovelady thinks ‘pay as you go’ is unfair to struggling community members.
“Let’s get rid of this payment for garbage bags, now, because people who live in poverty, who are struggling to pay rent, lights and gasoline, how are they going to afford bags trash,” Lovelady asked on a forum. .
Unlike Columbia, many towns its size use rolling carts to collect trash. Some examples:
- Lawrence, Kansas, another city with its state’s flagship public university, uses rolling carts. The city collects trash on a weekly basis, with a monthly fee paid to the city based on the size of the cart. The city also offers carts of different sizes for different sizes of residence, with a marginal increase in monthly fees.
- Urbana, Illinois, also uses rolling carts, but contracts out waste management to seven different companies. Residents can choose between “carriers” that provide rolling carts or those that accept cans provided by the individual household.
- Tuscaloosa, Alabama, another city similar in size to Columbia and with a public university, requires all city residents to use the city garbage department. Their website says they use rolling carts.
Monica Lee, a member of the Facebook group Roll Carts, said she thinks rolling carts are more efficient.
“The machine just picks it up, compared to the workers who have to (pick it up). There are just a lot of benefits that we will get from the rolling cart system,” Lee said.
Barbara Buffaloe, the mayoral candidate who is the city’s former sustainability officer, said the tension surrounding trash pickup is the result of inaction by former council members.
“It’s not seen by council as a crisis, although for residents it is,” Buffaloe said. “People feel bad about taking their trash bag and putting it in another trash bag and putting it at the end of the sidewalk.”
Fourth Ward candidate Nick Foster agrees, saying the intensity of the issue shows a deep lack of trust in city government.
Buffaloe is among several candidates who have suggested a hybrid system that includes rolling carts, which lend themselves to automatic collection and bagging of trash according to the desires and limitations of specific neighborhoods. For example, bags might be better for older neighborhoods with narrower streets, while rolling carts might be more adaptable in planned new developments in outer parts of town.
Columbia Public Schools Board member and mayoral candidate David Seamon suggested the city adopt a system that uses different types of rolling carts for different neighborhoods.
“I believe different sized rolling carts for different homes and different neighborhood structures,” Seamon said. “And making exceptions for our disabled neighbors and the elderly.”
Tanya Heath, mayoral candidate and owner of a wellness business, suggested a hybrid approach with different trash bags for different events.
“We have to respect people who voted twice and want trash bags. We have to respect that. We need to talk to current garbage collectors to see what their idea is for improving garbage collection,” Heath said.
Skala was fine with respecting the 2016 voters’ decision.
“My preference would be a public referendum, so it’s not to disenfranchise voters in 2016 who voted to ban rolling carts.” Skala said. “Now we can debate or discuss whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea. There are pros and cons to both of these things. »
Mayoral candidate Randy Minchew said the first thing he would do about the litter issues would be to get rid of the trash bag mandate.
“Let everyone get out five five bags – they can’t weigh more than 50 pounds. And you can’t put a sofa or a stove there. Just use your consumer waste,” Minchew said. “That would solve a couple of things.”
Fourth Ward City Council candidate Erica Pefferman favors making the decision and dropping the issue entirely.
“I will say it doesn’t have to be that difficult; you know, a lot of this stuff just doesn’t need to be that hard,” Pefferman said, noting that many communities have solved the waste disposal problem without too much angst.
All of the candidates have agreed to make sure that sanitation workers and city employees have a say in the matter, as they feel that is not currently the case.
Community members’ grievances go beyond the current method of garbage collection.
A 2015 report by former city manager John Glascock and former sustainability director Buffaloe said there was a 78-79% turnover in sanitation staff. It also showed that the city spent an average of $350,000 a year on worker compensation.
Buffaloe said turnover rates are a result of workplace hazards.
“We are losing money with an inefficient system. We lose people because they get injured or quit their job,” she said.
Lee thinks rolling carts are better for workers, both for safety and working conditions.
“It’s such hard work, and we pay a lot for workers’ compensation. In terms of safety and working conditions, (rolling carts) are good for workers,” Lee said.
Columbia also suffers from a lack of employees. In February, the Solid Waste Utility faced 19 vacancies. One reason was that all garbage collectors were required to hold a commercial driver’s license, as any member of a truck crew had to be able to drive the truck.
In an attempt to address this shortage of employees, the council passed an ordinance reclassifying four of these vacant positions so that people could be hired to pick up the trash and not drive the truck. This change, in theory, would help improve employee recruitment and retention.