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Contamination putting Hoisington recycling service at risk
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Contamination, like this blanket-filled plastic bag dumped in one of the recycling containers at Hoisington’s free recycling center behind Wilson State Bank, is putting the city at risk of losing the service and having containers pulled. Efforts to reeducate the public about whhich recyclables can be accepted is underway.

HOISINGTON — If patrons of Hoisington’s recycling center fail to get on board with reducing contamination from improper recycling, the city is at risk of losing the recycling center located in the parking lot behind Wilson State Bank. This according to City Manager Jonathan Mitchell at the city council meeting on Sept. 23. He clarified the position of Waste Connections of Kansas, owner of Stutzman Refuse Disposal and the company that has contracted with the city to provide both the center and curb-side single stream recycling and trash pickup since 2013. 

Herschel West is the Municipality / HOA Market Manager for Waste Connections of Kansas. Earlier in September, he visited Hoisington and found significant amounts of contamination mixed in with recyclables. Things like trash and food waste, plastic bags, light bulbs, electronics, shredded paper and even yard waste. It became clear an effort to reeducate the public was needed, and he gave the city’s administration a month to get the word out and eliminate the contamination issue. 

“Otherwise, we will need to dump the containers as trash, and pull them,” he told the Great Bend Tribune Monday. 

The reason is simple supply and demand. Since China first imposed tariffs on recyclables, and then stopped accepting them from the United States, sellers of recyclables on the east and west coasts began turning to the Midwest buyers that Waste Connections has supplied. Now, those buyers are able to be very selective about what containers they will accept and reject. 

“The buyers won’t take any contamination at all,” West said. 

In recent years, Waste Connections invested heavily in state-of-the-art equipment at its recycling center, enabling it to take in single stream recycling. That means all accepted recyclables can be stored and collected in one container, making it easy for the public to adopt the recycling habit. But there are items that the machinery can’t process, and when it accumulates, it creates jams that result in several hours of downtime and labor from specialized technicians to get equipment up and running again. 

Plastic bags are a particular problem. They get wrapped around gears and over time build up until finally the machine grinds to a halt. Because many people line their recycling containers with plastic bags and then take the bags to the recycling center, there are a lot of bags mixed in with the acceptable items. 

Dolores Kipper, Hoisington’s ordinance officer, is an advocate for recycling. She noted Monday afternoon that the center was looking better than it has in some time, considering the pickup day each week is Tuesday. But, still, there were several items in the bins that were not listed on the containers, and several plastic bags visible. 

“We really need people to simply empty their bags into the containers and then take them home with them to use again the next week,” she said. One large plastic bag was filled with several smaller plastic bags, she noted. She hopes as people become aware of the seriousness of the threat these bags place on the recycling equipment, and the city’s ability to continue to offer the service, they will find alternative places to recycle their bags. Some area stores provide the service, she said. Cloth shopping bags are another option, eliminating the stream of bags in the first place, she added. 

Citywide service available

The city made the switch from a city-run trash pick-up service to Stutzman’s trash and curbside recycling service in 2013. Part of the contract they negotiated was the free recycling center. In addition, a low fee for curbside was offered if there was 100 percent buy-in, Mitchell said. So each customer has the curbside recycling fee built in to the base fee for trash pickup. The focus now is on eliminating contamination at the recycling center, but if that’s lost, the city is uncertain what it will mean for curbside recycling. 

While residents have curbside, it’s the commercial entities that stand to lose out, especially if the recycling center ceases to be available, Mitchell pointed out. Cardboard boxes and paper are a high percentage of the material collected each week. 

Sunflower Recycle

Some Hoisington city council members questioned if there wasn’t another option, and named Sunflower Diversified as a possible solution. 

Prior to 2013, Mitchell said, Sunflower was providing recycling services to the city. At that time, businesses were not being charged, but residences were, to the tune of several thousands of dollars a year. He said the city could approach Sunflower to see if they have an interest, but he cautioned the resulting solution may be different than what Stutzman’s currently provides. 

In the Nov. 15, 2018 Tribune report, “New steps in recycling,” Sunflower Diversified Services announced it would begin a three-year push to triple its intake of recyclables. 

Debbie McCormick is Sunflower’s director of marketing. On Monday, she shared with the Tribune that while Sunflower still believes in providing recycling services to the community to help efforts to be more ecologically sound, and for the jobs it provides for its clients, their focus on expansion has changed. 

“Like any other commodity, recyclables have their high and low cycles, and right now is the lowest we’ve ever seen it,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of different companies going out of recycling.”

Earlier this year, Sunflower began charging commercial clients a fee to pick up items like paper and cardboard. This has helped the agency to reach a break-even point on the recycling operation, McCormick said. Collections are up at the long-standing 10th Street collection center, providing the jobs Sunflower’s clients need to live independently. 

“Sunflower would certainly consider providing our services to Hoisington,” McCormick said. “But they would not be free.”

In addition to charging businesses, there would be a fee for curbside pickup, she said. And, as with Stutzman’s, contamination would be a deal breaker. Single-stream, too, is not an option. Sunflower has seen manageable increases in the amount of recyclables its collecting from its sorting container across the street from the Main Street Dillon’s grocery store. Customers need to sort their items by type there. It may account for why contamination has not been a problem. 

“A lot of thinking by our organization, the city and the county went into the placement of the satellite collection bin,” McCormick said. Convenience and high visibility with a clear view from the grocery store parking lot and Main Street are factors taken into consideration, she said.