Olathe residents continue to lead the region in terms of recycling their garbage and expressing satisfaction in their city’s trash pickup services.
But consultants see potential problems on the horizon and are advocating a number of steps as part of the city’s first solid waste master plan to make Olathe’s trash system more efficient and better able to deal with the city’s growing population.
“We want to optimize the performance of the existing systems because you guys have a great program right now, and we want to continue that program,” Anastasia Welch, a project manager for SCS Engineers, told the City Council on Monday.
Among the firm’s proposals are raising the fee for people dropping off waste and debris at the city-owned transfer station at 1681 S. Valley Road, expanding the facility the city uses to compost residential yard waste and doing a better job educating homeowners and businesses on what materials are actually recyclable.
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That last step is key as companies looking to buy cardboard, aluminum and other recycled goods have gotten increasingly restrictive on the types and quality of materials they are willing to accept.
China, one of the world’s largest purchasers of recycled goods, recently began rejecting the import of dozens of varieties of solid waste, including several types of plastic and mixed waste paper.
Olathe is one of the only cities in Johnson County that operates its own solid waste service, as opposed to contracting with a third-party hauler to handle residents’ trash and recyclables.
Welch and Karen Luken, of Economic Environmental Solutions International, said this gives the city greater flexibility to deal with changes in the solid waste market.
Residents seem to agree with 93 percent of respondents in a recent survey by ETC Institute saying they were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of the city’s trash service.
Through its recycling and yard waste services, Olathe keeps 45 percent of its waste out of the Johnson County Landfill in Shawnee.
Recycling is ultimately a money-saver for the city, as less garbage headed to the landfill means lower fees to landfill owner Waste Management.
To avoid the problems created when residents attempt to put inappropriate materials in curbside recycling bins or drop-off locations, the master plan calls for customer education programs that would explain what materials are welcome and why “contaminated” recyclables are an issue, especially for international markets.
The plan also suggests changing some of the city’s three drop-off recycling sites to accept only cardboard, reflecting the main material residents leave there already.
Finally, the planners also are pushing to encourage business customers to recycle more, noting only 10 percent currently participate.
The city’s Compost Facility at 1100 Hedge Lane is technically another kind of recycling as workers turn grass clippings, leaves and other yard debris into compost that is available free to the public.
Public works officials are already planning to expand the facility to deal with growing demand, with construction expected to begin this summer and be completed by September. Once completed, the plan suggests opening the facility to potentially accept commercial yard waste.
The plan also recommends expanding the transfer station, which is currently expected to exceed its annual limit of 114,000 tons of garbage by 2027. Doubling the station’s capacity, a project estimated to cost $4.9 million, could extend its longevity to 2064.
Planners also say the city should raise its prices for using the transfer station.
The station currently charges $40.50 a ton for so-called C&D, much lower than surrounding C&D landfills. Solid waste officials said they plan to ask in the upcoming city budget to raise that rate to $55 a ton, matching the rate of the Johnson County Landfill.
Lastly, Welch and Luken said the Johnson County Landfill is expected to close in 2043, forcing Olathe to find a new home for its trash. They said the city should begin working with the county to find a long-term solution, which could involve shipping waste outside the county or the state.
Council members were largely positive to the consultants’ suggestions, but offered their own idea, such as investigating ways to use garbage to generate energy or using rail lines to transport trash long distances.
Councilman John Bacon said he would be careful when raising the transfer station fees because he was more concerned with recovering operational costs than making a profit. He also said he would oppose efforts to make it harder for people to use the transfer station.
“If everybody keeps their trash picked up, it helps everybody that lives in our community, so I don’t know if I really want to limit people’s access to getting rid of their junk,” Bacon said.
Mayor Michael Copeland said he often gets complaints from residents who want curbside glass recycling. The consultants said glass is much heavier than other types of material, which can wear out vehicles and damage equipment.
Copeland also said the council should be very careful to make sure any changes to the solid waste system generates a net benefit for residents.
“It’s a highly rated service,” he said, “so if we’re going to tweak it, let’s understand what that looks like.”
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