Recyclers in the area, consider yourself schooled.
Olathe residents, in all likelihood, have surpassed you in bundling up leaves and twigs and various other recyclables and keeping them out of the landfill.
Even as some county residents have challenged the Johnson County rule changes that keep yard waste out of the Deffenbaugh Industries landfill, residents of Olathe have been chugging along, totting up some of the highest recycling efforts in the area.
The latest figures show Olathe with a 41.1 percent residential “waste diversion” rate. That’s a new high for the city and substantially above the national average of 34.5 percent, said Tim Danneberg, city spokesman.
Olathe’s rate has been increasing steadily the past couple of years, from 37.67 percent in 2012 and 38.29 percent in 2013. The 41.1 percent for last year surprised even Kent Seyfried, the city’s solid waste manager.
But maybe it shouldn’t have. The city’s surveys have shown that the city’s residents have been enthusiastic recyclers, especially since the city changed recycling from a subscription service to part of the base rate in 2010. A recent survey by ETC Institute of Olathe shows some 95 percent of the city’s residents use the curbside recycling.
“That’s phenomenal,” Seyfried said.
Most of the latest increase in diverted trash is from yard waste, he said. Olathe, like the county, has residents bag yard waste separately for composting. The yard waste increase may have been due to a wetter year and a better growing season, he said.
But the amount of other recycling went up as well, he said. In fact, the entire residential waste stream of about 45,000 tons is higher, an increase that may be a sign of an improving economy, Seyfried said.
Waste diversion rates are figured by comparing the weight of waste that is recycled or composted to the total amount of trash hauled away. It does not calculate the waste diverted by people with backyard compost piles or those who reuse products rather than put them in a recycling bin.
Unlike many cities in Johnson County, Olathe has a city-run trash operation. Therefore the city has complete and comprehensive figures on how many tons of trash, recycling and yard waste are collected, Seyfried said.
Another thing that makes Olathe different is the fact that its trash doesn’t go to Deffenbaugh. Instead, the garbage is hauled west to a landfill in Jefferson County, Kansas. Yard waste is taken to a city-run compost facility. Regular recycling does go to Deffenbaugh, which offers a rebate based on its market value.
All that makes recycling an important money saver for the city, since it costs less to recycle and compost than to haul the trash away and pay the landfill fees, Seyfried said.
Olathe has had separate yard waste pickup since 1990, although residents paid a subscription fee until 2010.
Johnson County’s 2012 rules requiring yard waste separation have come under fire from some residents and are being re-examined by state regulators because of a state law that says the county may not make rules about what the landfill accepts that would dictate policy to other cities. Critics have also been skeptical about whether yard waste is being used for ground cover.
The city of Olathe, with its separate landfill and composting, is not part of the county system and so doesn’t have to concern itself with the Deffenbaugh rules on yard waste. But its figures are included in the county’s waste diversion rates.
The county’s most recent numbers are from 2012. In that year, the county would have had about a 27 percent diversion rate, but Olathe’s rate improved things, bringing the county’s rate up to about 29 percent, according to figures from the county department of health and environment.
Seyfried said Olathe’s recycling program works so well because the city makes it easy. Residents get a 65- or 95-gallon cart to put at curbside and recyclables are collected every other week. There’s no limit on yard waste as long as it’s bundled properly.
Last year, the city also introduced a phone app that reminds people of trash day each week and lets them know when holidays cause changes in the schedule, he said. “That has really helped. We give it a lot of accolades.”