Trash Officials Search for a KC Masterpiece

AFTER REJECTING CURBSIDE recycling three times since 1990, the Kansas City, Mo., City Council unanimously approved a new curbside program scheduled to begin in September. To encourage participation in the single-stream recycling system, the city's Department of Environmental Management also has planned to charge residents for excess garbage. This proposal, called RecycleFirst, has been both a source of consternation and confusion for residents. However, recycling proponents couldn't be happier.

Under the program, which officials are still finalizing, the city will send all 150,000 metro households 60 stickers to last one year. Each week, one bag of trash without a sticker will be picked up for free. Any additional waste, including bulky items or yard debris, must bear a sticker in order to be collected. Once residents exhaust their 60 stickers, they may obtain new ones from the city for $1 each. Recycling has no restrictions, needn't be separated and is free. Glass is the only unacceptable recyclable material.

“We're putting a limit on how much trash you can put out,” says John Stufflebean, director of the Kansas City Department of Environmental Management. “But we think if residents recycle properly, they can still put out as much waste as they used to.”

Stufflebean says the city opted for a single-stream system because processing has become easier, largely due to the recent expansion of a materials recovery facility, owned by Deffenbaugh Industries, also headquartered in Kansas City. Deffenbaugh will continue to manage the city's recycling drop-off sites, but the city currently is taking bids from haulers for proposals to collect and market the recyclables.

“Deffenbaugh will bid, they have most of the local market. But Allied is a possibility, too,” Stufflebean says. “We hope to get as many [bids] as we can.” The city also is offering a separate bid on containers and is looking for potential sponsors for the program.

Landfills around the Kansas City area have been closing during the past few years, and according to Stufflebean, complying with regulations is more expensive than recycling. Two main landfills serve Kansas City. One is operated by Allied Waste Industries, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Deffenbaugh operates the other in Shawnee, Kan.

Worries about RecycleFirst are not in short supply. Officials are concerned the program could lead to illegal dumping. Some residents are expressing disdain for the possibility of paying for trash pickup because they say an earnings tax established in 1970 to pay for collection should continue to cover the costs.

“In 1970, curbside recycling had hardly been invented,” Stufflebean says. “The new program reflects the realities of 2003.” The earnings tax is a city income tax that claims 1 percent of income each year.