EarthWorms Castings… by Jean Ponzi

Jean Ponzi

Our Solid Waste Management District System

A Quiet Resource That’s Under Siege

You recycle now without a second thought – at home, at school – and chances are good that your workplace pairs recycling bins with the trash cans too.

At Lambert Airport, the convention center, at Cardinals and Rams games, and St Louis Earth Day’s Recycling On The Go works all kinds of festivals and public events. Recycling has become a part of our community landscape, a common, efficient, sensible and affordable practice.

Electronics recycling collection events are often held for free. Your roofer can recycle your old shingles, and your remodeler or builder can recycle the wood, drywall, cardboard and other streams of waste from your home improvements. You can donate used building materials and shop for DIY bargains at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore that takes them. Your Scout troop can get recycled craft materials from Leftovers or the St. Louis Teachers Recycle Center.

Your paper, junk mail, cardboard can all co-mingle in the same convenient bin where you recycle kitchen containers made of glass, metal and plastic: all in one “Single Stream.”
Your school or college or Missouri Botanical Garden wedding reception is sending your food waste to a composting center, instead of to a landfill.

So many common, convenient recycling options, available all over the St. Louis area! A trail of support for all these Green services – and the local businesses that provide them – ends at one local agency that annually awards grants to help jump-start and maintain our region’s waste-reducing services.

The St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District annually makes grants supporting recycling efforts of local businesses, non-profits and local governments – and has been quietly, efficiently doing this work for twenty years.

Our District is part of a statewide network of 20 Solid Waste Districts that each serves a 4 to 7-county region. Grants awarded by Districts come from a small part of the “tipping fee” that is charged per-ton to dump waste into landfills. The funds for District staff salaries and office operations also allocated from this pool of fees. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources oversees all District activity, and all Districts participate in a variety of audits that document responsible handling of public funds.
I have worked in St. Louis with recycling programs and topics since 1996. I’ve gone to five national recycling conferences and learned about recycling support systems in many other U.S. cities. I’ve served on the board of our local District for nearly ten years. In my opinion, Missouri’s Solid Waste District program, that adds a miniscule amount to conventional tipping fees and administers these funds through local agencies who know their local community needs, is one of the best and most fiscally efficient recycling systems in the nation.

The Districts were created by our State Senate in 1990. And today our State Senate has the whole system under siege.

Senate Bill 13, introduced this session, proposed to eliminate the Solid Waste District program and centralize all District functions into MO-DNR. In typical lawmaking fashion, the original bill is already morphing and will continue to shift before the end of the session in May – but the intent to scrap or at least seriously disrupt the District system is clear in this bill.

Is this system worth maintaining? Worth speaking up to support?
Over the past 20 years, the St. Louis region alone, Solid Waste District grants have:

  • Invested over $40 million into local recycling infrastructure
  • Supported over 1,000 different waste-reducing projects
  • Helped boost the statewide waste-diversion rate from less than 5% in 1990 to over 50% today
  • Leveraged a $2 return-on-investment for each $1 awarded in grants
  • Maintained audit-documented responsibility and accountability for funds
  • Developed and helped maintain over 16,000 Missouri recycling industry jobs – at least 1,500 of these jobs are based in St. Louis alone.
  • Generated tens of millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues from recycling businesses and the jobs they create and maintain

And the staff of every District in the state also provides all manner of technical assistance to help local grant-recipients succeed. Many Districts directly provide local services too, such as running the recycling system for our State Fair and holding annual tire dump cleanups and computer recycling collections, especially in rural areas. No state agency, in today’s political climate, will have the resources or inclination to serve local recycling needs as our Solid Waste Districts routinely do.

One of the Districts’ biggest problems, as big-buck lobbyists for the big waste companies take aim at this system, is that our Districts do their work so quietly, without taking much visible credit. But recycling advocates like me are speaking up all over the state, to rally awareness, educate lawmakers and local leaders, and mobilize citizen action when and how it’s most effectively needed.

There will be more to this story – and when you hear more about it, if you’re called upon to contact your state lawmakers – PLEASE DO SO!

The St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District serves the City of St. Louis and St. Louis, Jefferson and St. Charles Counties. Jean Ponzi represents the City and serves as vice-chair of the District’s Executive Board.