KC Set to Recycle

KANSAS CITY, MO., MAY be one of the last metropolitan cities to adopt a curbside recycling program, but city officials are hoping that, like the tortoise, their slow but steady efforts will finally pay off.

At least three times, city officials have approached their community about recycling. And finally, starting March 1, the city will begin implementing its RecycleFirst curbside pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) recycling program in 75 neighborhoods. By December 2004, the city expects to have the majority of households setting out typical recyclable materials — paper, plastic, aluminum cans — but not glass.

Recyclables will be picked up every other week, and then the city plans to coincide pickups with weekly trash collection once volumes increase. Households will be allowed two bags of refuse per week weighing up to 40 pounds each. Additional bags will require homeowners to purchase a tag that costs $1 each. Drop-off sites will continue servicing the 25 percent of the population that lives in apartment complexes or does not have access to curbside recycling.

According to John Stufflebean, Department of Environmental Management director, Kansas City had tried implementing a curbside recycling program at least three times in the past. However, each time the plan was brought to the attention of the public, they voted against recycling. But the third vote lost by 54 percent, which meant that 46 percent voted to tax themselves for recycling he says.

So the city conducted a neighborhood survey to gauge the community's recycling interest. “We found that people voted against recycling because they didn't want to pay for it,” Stufflebean says. “If they were to pay extra for anything, it should be excess trash. Hence, a hybrid pay-as-you-throw system was established.”

Another concern Kansas City wanted to address is illegal dumping, especially as residents are forced to pay for extra refuse pickups. Stufflebean believes education may prevent some problems, and believes once PAYT is implemented, illegal dumping will be short-lived and fairly minimal.

Currently, the city spends approximately $8 million per year to dispose of trash for 145,000 households. With RecycleFirst, Kansas City hopes to reduce its trash volume by 25 percent, saving $1.7 million annually, which would pay for curbside collection every other week. The city projects it will raise $100,000 in profits from selling extra bag tags and bins.

“We've been getting a strong, positive response,” Stufflebean says. It may have taken a while to get there. “But the neighborhoods have come to the table and said we want to help this, we're ready to make this happen.”