Arch Allies: Gateway To Recycling

City crews service almost all of St. Louis' 380,000 residents. Trash is collected twice weekly, while yard waste is collected separately once a week during the growing months and once a month in winter. All of the yard waste collected is composted.

Over the years, the city's solid waste management system has evolved incrementally to combine a mix of efficient trash collection with new recycling initiatives.

In the 1970s, residents used the standard trash can for their solid waste, which then was collected manually and discarded by a three-person crew. Often, these cans turned over in the alleys, and curious cats and dogs investigating the contents were a common sight.

"We needed to find a more efficient and orderly way to pick up trash," says Nick Yung, the city's refuse commissioner. "In 1979, we started experimenting with automated collection and found a tremendous savings in the collection costs."

By 1982, the entire city had been converted to an automated, one-person collection system. All city residents with alley service were provided one- and one-half or three-cubic yard metal alley dumpsters shared by several buildings. More than 85 percent of the city's residents are serviced in this manner.

"Now, we pick up more than 1,300 households in just one route," Yung says.

For the remaining residents, 90-gallon roll carts are used with the same automated pick up system. "We saved almost $1 million a year in collection costs and personnel injuries by switching to the automated collection system," Yung recalls.

Public/Private Partnership The city of St. Louis has relied upon private contractors to manage its trash transfer stations and landfill operations for the past 11 years. Prior to that, waste was incinerated at a city-managed facility. Most recently, Waste Management of St. Louis was awarded the contract to landfill the city's waste and compost its yard waste. In fiscal year 1996-97, the city collected 179,000 tons of refuse from the 186,000 St. Louis households.

In addition to its relationship with Waste Management, the city also closely works with Operation Brightside, a non-profit public-private partnership dedicated to a cleaner, more attractive environment.

Operation Brightside, along with city agencies, coordinates Project Blitz, a city-wide clean up and beautification effort involving a network of more than 3,000 volunteers. Each spring, the volunteers arrange neighborhood cleaning and greening projects and city crews from Refuse, Parks and Forestry work on four consecutive Saturdays to pick up the extra waste. They are welcomed to their appointed rounds by 12 million yellow daffodils that bloom each spring in St. Louis, thanks to the organization's Project Flower.

"For 15 years, Operation Brightside has worked with the city, community groups and residents to improve St. Louis' neighborhoods," reports Mary Lou Green, the organization's executive director. "This team effort has fostered pride in our community as well as visible improvements. In fact, the Brightside program has been adapted by other cities including Louisville, Ky."

Operation Brightside took the lead in recycling in the early '80s. It opened the first multi-material, non-profit recycling center built entirely from donated labor and equipment. The centrally-located facility was open to the public for more than 10 years under Brightside's leadership and nearly paid for itself with revenue generated by the recyclables.

Unfortunately, with the downturn of the recycling market, the center closed briefly in 1996. As a result, the city hired a private contractor to manage the center along with Operation Brightside and reopened it to the public.

Drop-off Recycling City-sponsored recycling began in 1992 when Missouri banned motor oil, appliances, tires and auto batteries from the landfills.

These items now are gathered as part of the bulky waste collection offered to every area of the city once a month.

Yard waste, another item banned from the landfill, is collected in specially-marked alley containers or in roll-carts on Wednesdays for composting. The vegetative waste from city parks also is composted and then offered free-of- charge to the public at five compost distribution sites.

"Residents scoop up the compost as fast as we bring it out," says Gary Bess, forestry commissioner.

The first two drop-off locations for household recyclables began operating in 1993. Now, the city offers 25 drop-off sites in addition to the Operation Brightside center. At the smaller neighborhood sites, two bright blue recycling bins are placed at firehouses, libraries and parks which the public can use seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

One bin is for newspaper and the other co-mingles steel and aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles. Automated side-loaders pick up the newspaper in the morning, and the co-mingled container in the afternoon. The materials then are delivered to a private recycling company that sorts the commingled mix.

Recycling At The Curb? A curbside recycling pilot program, initiated in the city's central west end area in 1996, showed that 10 percent of the waste could be diverted. However, the city continues to struggle with how to offer this additional service without significantly draining its budget.

A cost-sharing curbside recycling program is one potential solution and will be tested in three areas of the city. In this pilot program, residents who sign up for curbside recycling services will pay $15 a year to a contractor and the city will pay the remainder, approximately $37 annually.

The city hopes the program will allow it to offer curbside recycling to every resident at a price it can afford. Drop-off recycling sites still will be provided for residents who will not pay for curbside service.

In addition to its pilot programs, the city is educating its public schools on the proper management of solid waste, yard waste and recycling. It also has received a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to enhance education in the schools and to assist them with starting permanent paper recycling programs.

St. Louis also is looking forward to "Missouri Recycles Day" on November 15. Residents who fill out pledge cards to start recycling or to increase recycling will be eligible to win prizes made from recycled materials at a drawing held at the city of St. Louis/ Operation Brightside recycling center.