Missouri moves toward sustainability with new hazardous waste disposal programs
Household hazardous waste disposal has been a point of concern for a long time, but as the effects of climate change become more visible, so does the concern for how this waste is disposed of.
Properly disposing of this waste is important not only so it can be recycled, but also to reduce pollution and energy usage. Due to climate change, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as forest fires, droughts and floods, has increased. Being that many hazardous waste products are flammable and contaminate bodies of drinking water, improper disposal coupled with an unstable climate could be potentially dangerous.
Last week, residents of Jefferson City collected items like cleaning products, old paint, and motor oil to later be picked up by the city as part of a new hazardous waste program.
This program, known as the Household Hazard Waste Drop-Off, is operated by the Cole County Household Hazardous Waste Facility. Since it opened in 2011, the facility has properly disposed of 20,000 pounds of hazardous waste. When not disposed of properly, products like these can cause harm when they spread into soil, water and air.
Although the immediate dangers that result from this occurring are alarming, the long-term effects are even more costly.
The effects of improper hazardous waste disposal can manifest in multiple ways, including: mutations in animals, cancer in humans, interrupted plant growth, destroyed green spaces and contaminated groundwater.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that each person in the United States produces around four pounds of household hazardous waste per year for a total of 530,000 tons in a single year.
The harm that these waste products can inflict on the environment plus the community’s enthusiasm for recycling is what motivated city staff to create an initiative like the household hazardous waste pickup.
“We hold seven of them per year, and we are already filled up until September,” Karlie Reinkemeyer, Jefferson City’s neighborhood services specialist, said of the program. “A lot of people are interested in it; there is a lot of excitement from the public.”
Programs like these exist throughout the whole state. For example, the cities of Columbia and Springfield host household hazardous waste days similar to the one in Jefferson City.
St. Louis also has a program where residents can schedule to drop-off household waste daily. But this isn’t unique to large cities. Even in smaller cities, if there is not a drop-off program in place, there is an option to schedule a pick-up at the cities’ local household hazardous waste facility, such as the one in Mexico, Missouri.
Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has established a Hazardous Waste Management Commission and offers resources on its website, including the status of every household hazardous waste facility in Missouri.
“All of state government is working toward being more energy efficient and to create more sustainable work environments as well as working to help individuals, families and businesses be more sustainable,” Brian Quinn, Public Information Officer for Missouri’s DNR, said.
The department has other programs dedicated to encouraging sustainability across the state. These programs focus on environmental concerns like air pollution control, waste management, water conservation and environmental remediation.
But even in cities like Columbia where the household waste facility is fully operative and there are established recycling programs, disposing of waste products properly is still an issue.
Zoe Westhoff, the 2020-2021 president of the student-led non-profit Sustain Mizzou, explained that Columbia’s recycling program has good intentions, but it hasn’t met its intended goals.
“Considering that the University of Missouri is like a small city within the city of Columbia, I wish we worked more with the city’s sustainability office through more joint programs and events,” she said.
As more of these programs have sprung up throughout the state in the last 10 years, residents have new opportunities to make contributions toward a more sustainable future.