During his recent campaign for Blue Springs City Council, Scott Casey heard a consistent concern from voters – they wanted longer hours of operation at the city recycling center. So when city officials announced this past summer that the center would be closing, Casey said he knew he had to act.
Casey didn't win his election, but he struck a nerve with an impassioned plea at a town hall meeting in August about his disappointment about the closing and the importance of recycling. His public comments were directed at city staff but caused several Blue Springs residents in the crowd to contact him, interested in doing more. As a result, about 20 residents formed Green Blue Springs, a community group dedicated to helping discover a solution to the city’s recycling dilemma and increasing awareness about what they view as a crucial issue in Blue Springs.
Today, the group is anxiously awaiting a decision by the city’s Solid Waste Commission, which is expected to recommend a plan to the City Council that will determine the future of recycling in Blue Springs. Casey, who sits on the Blue Springs Planning and Zoning Commission, said the group’s first action was collecting about 900 signatures from residents who visited the Pink Hill facility during its last days of operation. The signatures pledge support for a citywide recycling program to replace the now-closed facility, he said.
While the seven-member Solid Waste Commission is scheduled to meet next week, the group probably will not yet be prepared to make a recommendation to the council, said Senior Planner Matt Wright. He said the upcoming meeting is a work session for members to review options suggested at the last few meetings. Some of those ideas stemmed from Green Blue Springs member input.
“Quite a few residents have come out to meetings to share their thoughts,” Wright said. The commission, first established by a council ordinance in 1998, has a long list of proposals to consider and will begin the process of rejecting ideas that aren’t feasible to further explore plausible suggestions.
“They really want to make sure they fully understand the pros and cons… and ramifications of anything they recommend to the City Council,” said Wright, who oversees the Solid Waste Commission.
The Blue Springs recycling center fell victim to a dilemma facing many area city-operated facilities: little to no profit for recyclables coupled with escalating operating costs. The city’s costs rose from about $12,000 annually, during the last few years, to an estimated $100,000, Wright said, adding that the issue is global rather than local. “We’ve been shipping a lot of our recycling to China and they’re getting stricter about the quality of materials they’ll take,” he said. China has a history of melting down materials and re-purposing for use in manufacturing, which is not done as much in this country, he said.
As a result, several Kansas City area communities, including Independence and Lee’s Summit, recently closed their citywide recycling centers and are searching for alternatives, said Mid-America Regional Center Environmental Planner Nadja Karpilow. The cities, which includes Blue Springs, are exploring a joint solution, such as a regional recycling center, she said. In the meantime, cities encourage residents to seek out alternatives, such as paying for curbside pick-up, which most trash companies offer for a nominal fee, Karpilow said. She also suggested that interested recyclers check the online Recycle Spot.org, which offers information about recycling locations and what items can be recycled.
Sometimes site visitors are surprised by how many items can be recycled, including some larger items and appliances. "There's a lot of things that can be recycled," she added, "more than just what goes in the bin."
Another option cities can consider is volume-based and a new program offered by many trash haulers today. Pay-as-you-throw incentivizes recycling by offering lower rates for less trash generated, Casey said. For instance, Columbia’s program was instituted via city ordinance and requires residents to purchase special trash bags at area grocery stores. Casey said he’s a fan of the program, which leaves residents eager to comply. “It’s a pretty big incentive to recycle as much as they can and reduce their waste” to avoid paying for bags, he said.
Casey said he and other members of Green Blue Springs are anxious to get a program started and are concerned that some initiatives, such as establishing a regional center, could take a very long time. In the interim, the group welcomes new members interested in joining the discussion and suggested they visit the Green Blue Springs Facebook page or contact city hall to leave a message.
Casey and his wife are Blue Springs natives who are raising a family here. He summed up his passion for recycling this way: "I think it's incredibly important for Blue Springs to keep recycling,” he said. “We really value how beautiful and clean Blue Springs is,” he said, “and my concern is if we don't recycle, we're going to lose some of that.”