The Kansas City area is losing yet another free recycling drop-off site.
This time it’s Blue Springs, which expects to close its Pink Hill Park Recycling Center on Oct. 1.
For those keeping count, this marks 15 free drop-off sites that will have disappeared in roughly a year’s time. And each closure has ratcheted up the strain on those still open.
Blue Springs, for example, saw its recycling volumes surge after free drop-offs closed first at city schools, then at two municipal drop-off sites in Lee’s Summit and most recently at two sites in Independence.
While more recycling might sound like a good thing, it turned into a bad thing for Blue Springs.
Recycling drop-off sites lose money. They stay open only because city budgets cover the gap between what centers cost to operate and what they earn from selling the aluminum cans, cardboard, paper, plastic and other recyclable materials they take in.
Recycle more material, lose more money.
And the worsening economics of recycling means financial losses are growing faster than the piles of materials at drop-off centers.
In Blue Springs, for example, the Pink Hill center collected 470 tons in the first eight months of the city’s current fiscal year, more than it had in all of the previous year. Put another way, average monthly collections had jumped 84 percent compared with a year earlier.
Even if volumes stay flat, Blue Springs faces much bigger financial losses in the coming year.
Three years ago, the city had hired out operations of the Pink Hill center to WCA Waste Corp., which also had acquired Town & Country locally. With the contract set to expire this month, the city sought bids for a new contract.
Only one bid came in.
“It’s not a market that many companies are in anymore,” said Kim Nakahodo, assistant to the city administrator.
The deal was dramatically different.
Instead of the city receiving 80 percent of the money generated from selling the recyclable materials, it would get 10 percent. Instead of the city paying $69.50 for each full bin hauled away, it would pay $185.
Losses under the old deal averaged about $1,500 a month. Had it taken the new deal, Blue Springs stood to lose $6,500 a month. And with higher expected volumes, a proposed city budget projected actual full-year losses at $100,000 and proposed closing the center.
Free drop-off sites struggle against other problems, including contamination. Usually, sites operate without staff and sloppy recyclers dump their trash — including hypodermic needles, propane tanks and deer carcasses.
Various pressures have led to the closing of free recycling drop-off sites at schools in Independence, Lee’s Summit and Kansas City, Kan., as well as community sites in Cass County, Sugar Creek and Tonganoxie.
The Kansas City area still has 18 other recycling drop off sites in Missouri and 10 in Kansas, according to RecycleSpot.org, which also provides information about where other items can be recycled such as mattresses, electronics, books and Styrofoam.
Blue Springs won’t make a final decision until after an Aug. 22 Facebook Live session during which the public can ask questions and a Sept. 6 budget hearing at which the public will be able to comment.
The impact of that decision reaches well beyond Blue Springs.
Once the Blue Springs center closes, its environmentally and economically conscientious clientele may shift to public recycling drop-off sites in Grandview, Kansas City or Belton, just as recyclers from Lee’s Summit and Independence had flocked to Blue Springs.
Of course, that will mean larger costs for those communities’ budgets.
“We’re telling people to now go to Kansas City,” said Lisa McDaniel, manager of the solid waste management program at the Mid-America Regional Council. “But should they pick up the costs for residents of other cities to have free drop-off?”
One alternative is paid curbside recycling from the same companies that haul away trash or yard waste for a fee. Most area households have that option, including those who chose instead to use the free sites in Lee’s Summit, Independence and Blue Springs.
“Recycling has a cost, and whether that cost is paid out of a city budget or a household budget, someone has to pay. It’s just not free,” McDaniel said.
Most apartment dwellers, small businesses and rural households don’t have access even to paid curbside recycling.
McDaniel said one other option for handling recycling came up during the regular June meeting of MARC’s Solid Waste Management District management council. It heard from municipalities that operate centers and the companies that accept and recycle the materials.
They agreed to look into whether MARC could seek bids to set up regional centers for free recycling drop-off.
“That is, like, way down the line,” she said.