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Recycling program faces scrutiny, face possible changes from legislative committee

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A joint committee on Solid Waste Management District Operations that hopes to analyze the state’s recycling programs held its first meeting in the Capitol today, and discussed whether or not the funding mechanism for the programs needs revision.

The committee heard from representatives from the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the programs, along with several local recyclers along with city and county officials from across the state.

Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, was elected chair of the committee and Rep. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield was elected vice chair.

Sen. Wayne Wallingford
Sen. Wayne Wallingford

“I’m just here to see whether or not this program, which I agree there is a need for, I’m just curious was to what private sector alternatives their might be to this subsidized program we are running,” Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, says.

Shaefer led the charge against Solid Waste Management Districts during the legislative session, offering a bill eliminating them completely and at times suggesting that a combination of private alternatives and a single statewide program could handle the job.

Currently, these districts play several roles — there are 20 districts across the state — handling recyclable material as well as waste considered unsafe for storage in a typical landfill.

Tonnage fees at local landfills largely fund the districts. A typical landfill pays a $2.11 per ton tax to the local district, a fee that is higher than most surrounding states.

The high fee was one point of interest from Schaefer.

During the Joplin tornado, some of the debris was managed by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and was taken to a Kansas landfill, rather than remaining in Missouri.

“I wonder whether or not the lower tonnage fee across the boarder was part of that consideration,” Schaefer says.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer
Sen. Kurt Schaefer

Karen Massey, Director of the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (EIERA), testified that the most important thing in keeping the districts feasible was to continue to harness waste as a commodity.

“Solid waste is now more of a commodity than it has ever been” Massey says. “Our concern is keeping that commodity in Missouri where it will do the most good.”

The EIERA is a quasi-governmental body whose board is appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate.

Massey says she feels the current fee structure was providing adequate funding, but that there was room for more specific statutes governing the operations of the districts. She says that grants awarded through the districts were often extremely well used, and that while improvements were possible, she would “shy away” from saying the districts are “broken.”

The committee was largely for information purposes only — with a report from the committee not due until Dec. 31 — Wallingford says it is clear that members need more time and information before considering alternatives.

“We have a lot to learn about how this money is used and whether these operations are working,” Wallingford says. “I’ll reserve judgment until I know more, but my concern is just making sure this program represents the best use of our tax dollars.”