By Jill Draper
Illegal dumping has been a problem for years in Kansas City, and at a recent business session preceding the June 9 City Council meeting at least one member wondered about a solution. Could the city simply designate some free dumping spots where people could leave old furniture, tires, mattresses and garbage? That way it would be easier to clean up.
Don’t do it, advised Michael Shaw, director of Public Works, saying such spots “will run out in 37 minutes. It is a faucet you cannot turn off.”
What the council did instead was to pass a trio of new trash programs designed to reduce the area’s litter problem and growing waste stream.
Members agreed to purchase 162,000 recycling carts with lids and wheels to eliminate wind-whipped pieces of paper, plastic and cardboard that blow from open bins throughout neighborhoods or become too rain-soaked to use. The 65-inch-tall carts will be provided free next spring to every city resident currently receiving trash service.
A second initiative will add 400 dumpsters to the city’s Neighborhood Cleanup Assistance Program, which allows neighborhood and civic groups to rent 22-foot-long dumpsters for short-term cleanup projects. According to Shaw, the demand for these dumpsters is higher than the current supply, and the new arrangement will double the number available.
A third program is a composting pilot project. Residents will be able to drop off food scraps and other biodegradable items at kiosks to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. The kiosks will be located at various urban farms and gardens and city properties such as community centers, police and fire stations. Shaw estimated that 18-20% of trash is compostable, according to national studies.
These changes are not cheap. The city plans to spend $5.4 million on the recycling carts plus $200,000 on neighborhood dumpster rentals and $250,000 on the composting program. Additional money is budgeted to fund educational campaigns for recycling as well as cart maintenance. Some of the funds—about $785,000—are being provided by federal pandemic stimulus aid (the American Rescue Plan Act).
Andrea Bough and Kevin McManus (6th District) and Ryana Parks-Shaw (5th District) were among the 11 City Council members who voted yes on the above projects. Only one, Brandon Ellington (3rd District), voted no.
These latest initiatives are part of an increasingly robust approach to dealing with trash and litter, said Chris Hernandez, the city’s director of communications. More trucks equipped for bulky item pickups are being purchased to lessen the wait between appointment times, and an aggressive street sweeping campaign has begun, he said, adding that next year’s budget allocates $600,000 for trash and litter cleanups through a jobs program for ex-convicts and homeless people staying at shelters. The city also is partnering with other groups to keep highways cleaner.
In addition to approving recycling carts, the council discussed the possibility of offering lidded trash carts on a citywide basis. These now are limited to about 12,000 households in areas where litter and rodents are most troublesome, said Shaw. He hopes to see all customers gain access to trash carts in the future and agreed to research how other cities handle this situation. He also wants to explore bringing back an old Bridging the Gap program that offered backyard compost bins.
“We’re open to a lot of different strategies—there’s no one size fits all,” Shaw said. “We have to get back to doing individual things with individual solutions.”
The new recycling carts will be blue with yellow lids and a label listing what items can be recycled. Storage should not be a problem, he noted. At 22-inches wide, the carts will take up the same footprint as the shorter bins now in use.
And what to do next spring with those old bins, often cracked and duct-taped, which served many a household for years?
They can be tossed into the new carts, Shaw confirmed. “We will accept them for recycling.”