How long has that trash been rotting on your curb? KC needs to fix its garbage problem

KC students help pick up trash in their neighborhood

Students from J.A. Rogers Elementary spend the morning picking up trash along 23rd Street in Kansas City cleaning up their neighborhood.
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Students from J.A. Rogers Elementary spend the morning picking up trash along 23rd Street in Kansas City cleaning up their neighborhood.

Trash collection in much of Kansas City remains a mess. The time has come to fix it.

This week, the City Council will consider a resolution directing City Manager Troy Schulte to come up with a new blueprint for citywide solid waste management. Significantly, that blueprint could recommend the end of trash collection by private contractors in the city.

There are a number of issues to consider, but the private companies that collect our trash have lots of difficult questions to answer if they want to keep the city’s business.

Taxpayers pay Waste Corporation of America and its subsidiaries and subcontractors almost $11 million a year to provide trash collection and recycling services north of the river and south of 63rd Street. City workers collect the rest.

But too often, the private firms have lacked the people and equipment needed to pick up the garbage in a timely manner. Last summer, trash rotted on the curb for days or even weeks in some parts of Kansas City.

The city’s complaint line was clogged with residents demanding better trash service. The pressure eased only after city employees supplemented the private companies’ efforts.

In recent weeks, trash complaints have started multiplying again.

Trash collection is the most basic of city services. Failure on this front quickly becomes a health hazard. It’s also a severe inconvenience for those who must put up with the smell of rotting garbage in their neighborhoods.

Few things make residents more furious at City Hall than the stench of uncollected trash.

The poor quality of private trash collection is a major problem, but it isn’t the only concern. Contracting with outside firms is growing more expensive, too.

City officials say they’ve started reviewing offers to provide private waste services beyond 2020, when the current contracts expire. They think a new contract could approach $14 million a year, an increase of more than 30 percent.

We’ve seen no evidence that Waste Corporation of America or its private partners deserve a 30 percent raise.

Last summer, Schulte said city employees might do a better job of collecting trash — at a lower cost. In the next weeks, he’ll need to show how he would pay for the equipment and personnel to implement citywide public trash collection in the years ahead.

He’ll also need to look at other important waste services — recycling, bulky item pickup, lawn waste removal, vacant lots. He’ll need to study trash removal at apartments and multi-family homes, too.

Kansas City produces more than one million pounds of trash a day, according to a 2008 study. Yet citizen satisfaction with solid waste removal has dipped in recent years and may have declined further after last summer’s debacle.

The next mayor and City Council will have to deal with this issue, one way or another. If city workers can provide better trash collection at an equal or cheaper cost, the new council should support it.