Green advisory board scours for ways to curb Cape Girardeau's waste

Monday, January 9, 2012
These bales of recyclables are ready to be hauled away Friday at the Cape Girardeau Public Works recycling center. (Fred Lynch)

Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series about the Girardeau Goes Green Advisory Board, a relatively new group that is charged with looking at the ways the city affects the environment. The second part deals with waste management, with future stories focusing on energy and outdoor sustainability.

Crumpled office paper. Spent batteries. Empty printer ink cartridges. Most people call such items trash, but Stephen Overmann has a different phrase for them: misplaced resources.

Even in today's increasingly environmentally conscious world, many of those things still wind up in the garbage and, subsequently, in landfills across the country.

That's why Overmann and others on the Girardeau Goes Green Advisory Board have made it their mission to dream up ways to help city officials keep those items from being disposed of.

"I'm very proud of Cape Girardeau, and I think the city government does a wonderful job and they've approached it in a positive manner," said Overmann, the director of environmental science at Southeast Missouri State University.

Still, Overmann and others on four focus groups have been coming up with ways to reduce the city's environmental impact, in the process taking the nearly 2-year-old group from its infancy to a board that implements meaningful changes.

Overmann and board chairman Adam Gohn, for example, are board members who make up the two-man focus group that has been studying ways to reduce the city's waste. While "progressive" is not be a word everyone would use to describe Cape Girardeau, that's exactly what it's been, both men said, when it comes to being on the forefront of measures to eliminate waste.

Cape Girardeau has adopted innovative programs to encourage recycling -- including the city's automated trash collection system and programs that encourage the recycling of electronics and hazardous waste.

Those programs, Overmann pointed out, have been largely successful.

The city's Public Works Department collects an average of 168 tons of recyclables each month. The city partners with Midwest Recycling Center to offer electronics recycling. The most recent household hazardous waste collection day in October at Arena Park allowed residents to dispose of 42,625 pounds of hazardous waste, up from last time's 17,000 pounds of material.

Now, the board is looking for ways to further reduce waste and to develop a plan to make that happen, Overmann said.

For starters, the waste management focus group spent the first year collecting data on waste generation and management by the city's government offices and departments. Members interviewed 27 city personnel, including department heads, managers and others.

The focus group prepared a 10-page report revealing its findings in nine waste categories, including office, solid, hazardous, electronic, automotive, construction and compost.

Some of the audit's findings show, both Gohn and Overmann said, that the city largely does a good -- if uneven -- job of handling its waste in a way the group sees as appropriate.

For example, in the area of office waste, the report says many city offices appear to have "made some efforts" toward waste reduction. However, the report defines those efforts as "sporadic" and differed across offices and departments.

Purchasing policies regarding recycled paper were not consistent across offices and departments, the report says. Some offices reported making an effort to buy recycled office paper, but most did not.

The city does a better job, the report suggests, when it comes to management of furniture and uniforms. Old appliances, furniture and uniforms are passed as "hand me downs" from one city office to another until the equipment or clothing becomes essentially unusable.

Old signs are reused and all city vehicles no longer of use to the city are sold at city auction, which the board found appropriate.

The weakest area of waste management, the report says, is the way the city handles its waste relating to construction and demolition. No surprise, the report says, since so-called C&D wastes have been poorly managed for years across the U.S.

The report includes a list of 19 suggestions for city officials to consider, including developing a "green office" to assist the city employees in better reducing office waste. Other suggestions include establishing a city policy for buying recycled office paper and implementating a program to properly manage C&D waste.

Overall, though, the city is doing a good job, Gohn said.

"Overall, I was impressed," he said. "I was pleasantly surprised at how well the city is doing."

City officials are researching several of the ideas generated by the report, said Pam Sander, the Public Works administrative officer who serves as the city's staff liaison on the board. She said they are close to getting recycling bins installed at city parks, for example.

The city is implementing other ideas, too. It uses spent oil from city vehicles to burn in heaters, providing heat for the vehicle fleet shop and the recycling processing center. The city will soon start accepting oil from residents who want to have their vehicle oil properly disposed of, rather than just dumping it somewhere.

Plans are also in the works for a new transfer station that would include management for C&D waste.

Some of the changes may seem small, but several board members said the task begins with changing attitudes. More community involvement would also be nice, she said.

The board's next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Cape Girardeau Public Library. There is one vacancy on the board and plenty of room for people to join focus groups, she said.

"It's not a group where you volunteer and nothing happens," she said. "These people are going to make a difference."


Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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