County Update: Commissioner Allen addresses questions about Johnson County’s recycling operations

District 2 Commissioner Jim Allen.

Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 2 Commissioner Jim Allen, whose district includes Lake Quivira, much of Shawnee and part of Lenexa.

Recently, several people have asked me about the various recycling programs available in Johnson County. The main question being, “are those items really recycled?” Let’s review the programs.

We are fortunate in Johnson County to have a robust recycling program available to all residents. Recycling protects the environment by allowing materials to be reused rather than becoming waste in our landfill. With the closure of the Lee’s Summit landfill in April and other area landfills nearing capacity, it’s more important than ever that we learn to divert our waste to landfills and do so effectively.

Recent reports from national media reveal that recyclable materials in cities on the east and west coasts are going to landfills for lack of demand. It’s true that recycling isn’t as profitable an industry as it has been in the past, but we are fortunate to still have a strong demand for recycled materials in the Midwest. particularly because we sell primarily to domestic rather than foreign markets. Todd Rogers, Environmental Division Director with Johnson County’s Department of Health and Environment, has spoken with our recycling processors and feels very confident that recyclables from Johnson County are being shipped and used in domestic markets every day.

At the heart of this dilemma is really the problem of contamination. Locally, 20-25% of recycled materials are called ‘wishful recycling’: things we put in the bin in the hope that it can be recycled, but it can’t. This is commonly due to the presence of food particles on the material but can also be caused by the presence of non-recyclable materials, such as plastic bags. More trash mixed in with recycling makes it more expensive and time-consuming to sort, and some clean materials may become contaminated by coming into contact with non-recyclable items. Unfortunately, our good intentions make it harder to keep the business of recycling profitable, which prevents things from going to the landfill.

Residents who value recycling in our community should visit the Johnson County Department of Health & Environment website, which has a detailed list of what can and can’t go in your recycling as well as some helpful FAQs. Last year, they launched a ‘Ditch the Bag’ campaign to raise awareness that when you put your recycling in a plastic bag, the whole bag is likely to end up in a landfill.

Not all materials can be dropped in your curbside recycling bin, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recycle them! Ripple Glass provides glass recycling containers at over 100 locations across the metro, and household hazardous waste products, including cleaning products and lawn and garden chemicals, can be dropped off at the Department of Health and Environment for safe disposal or re-use. And although the county can’t accept plastic bags and other kinds of plastic sheeting (such as the packing materials from your Amazon purchases), many local grocery and home improvement stores will recycle them for you.

Johnson County residents should have confidence that the majority of their items are recycled. I would encourage everyone to join me in recycling as much as they can.