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Concerns voiced over blowing recycled materials
Sunflower Diversified says its working to solve problems
cameron schweitzer pic
Cameron Schweitzer displays a stack of items he said blew from the Sunflower Diversified Services recycling facility near the Great Bend Municipal Airport and littered the area. - photo by Dale Hogg

When the wind whips, which is almost always around here, Cameron Schweitzer told the Great Bend City Council Monday night items intended for recycling by Sunflower Diversified Services at plant near the Great Bend Municipal Airport blow, littering the area and cause safety concerns.

Schweitzer had emailed members of the council, but felt like addressing the governing  body was the best way to get a response to his concerns. 

On Sunflower’s part, Executive Director Shelby Zuniga said they doing working to clean up the area and prevent further problems. She was also at the meeting to outline steps the agency has and is taking.

“I work out the airport, and I’m a pilot and a mechanic,” Schweitzer said. The email addressed Sunflower and how the agency stores recyclable materials “outdoors in open-top containers and the problems I see out there every day with this.”

He stood at the podium with a handful of documents weathered documents he said he had collected, and had photos and videos on is phone of the items scattered about. All had blown out of Sunflower’s facility, and they included tax documents,  bills, statements, receipts and other items.

“These are lots of things that people want to recycle, and do a good job and feel like they’re doing good for the environment,” he said. “But how (Sunflower is) storing their recycling doesn’t work in the Kansas wind and it’s not an isolated incident. I’ve made complaints to the City of Great Bend through the Code Enforcement Department dating back to four or 2021. So we’re going on two years that this is an issue. I have it all documented.”

He didn’t know if the council had seen his complaints. 

He also said he had reported his concerns to Zuniga. She had responded to his email, a message she had sent to council members as well.

“There’s a lot of blame being deflected on the COVID on to staffing issues, but nothing is being done as far as what I see every day out there,” he said. “And it’s pretty it’s disgusting. I mean, the right-of-ways, farm fields the ditches that flow all the way to the Arkansas River are all filled with milk jugs, pop cans, shredded paper.”

He urged council members to visit the area and see for themselves.

“I have the support of a lot of landowners, homeowners and business owners,” he said. “All these people are tired of picking up recycling things that should be recycled.”

He referred to Zuniga’s email and what he called “a few little white lies.” “They’re not out there every Saturday picking it up.

“The stuff that has ended up on airport runway lighting concerns me as far as my life, my property and everybody else who flies in and out of the airport,” he said. “It’s a big thing to me that their recklessness could potentially injure me and people driving along the airport road.”

He said Sunflower needs to find a better way to store their materials and be accountable for what he said was happening.

Code Enforcement Hoyt Kinsinger said he and Code Enforcement Supervisor Art Keffer have gone out there. “And it is a mess,” Kinsinger said.

Keffer makes the agency clean things up, but the stuff blows so far from the site, Kinsinger said.

“So I agree with him,” he said. “Maybe a solution would be that they can’t store outside.”

City Attorney Allen Glendenning was asked if the city had the authority to make such a demand. “I can look into that. But, probably generally, there’s a solution to that.”

“If they’re not taking care of it themselves, I would certainly hate for somebody to be hurt,” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs.

“I do want you guys to know that we are working on storage issues and we have been working on getting things cleaned up out there,” said Zuniga. “We did make a change in the director position out there because we were getting a little bit behind with recycling on our facility for the last two years. It’s been backing up during COVID when we were really short staffed.”

They have large cardboard creates called gaylords they use for their materials. These are covered with wooden pallets to hold things down, she said.

An inspector from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment toured the plant Friday afternoon, she said. “We did show him the facility inside and outside and he did not have any concerns. He thought that we were doing a good job with what we were doing.”

She agreed items do blow. “We do have a crew that goes out and picks up regularly once a week.”

Zuniga said things are not as bad now as they are in the photos Schweitzer showed to the council. She said with the new director on board, they should have all of the back stock cleaned up while keeping up with the current volume. 

Last year, Sunflower handled over 500,000 pounds of materials.  

She said they are going to apply for a KDHE grant in April to help with storage solutions. The grant in the past has helped them purchase a new bailer and forklift.

“In the last six weeks have processed over 100 Gaylords of additional material that’s been outside,” she said. “So we have been addressing the issue. And we know that has been an issue, but we’re doing the best we can to get caught up with it.”

Zuniga said she has spoken to city officials several times since she took over last June. “We are always open minded to it and we address the issues as soon as they make it known to us.”

Outside of Schweitzer, she said no one else has contacted her with complaints.

Mayor Cody Schmidt said he had been out to the area. “It’s clear out in farmer’s fields. It’s clear up to Fuller Brush. So are you cleaning just your property and forget about the neighbors?”

No, she said. They cleaned the surrounding properties as well.

Zuniga said the solution is two-fold. They have to reactively clean what blows and proactively get ahead of the issue so that it doesn’t become an issue anymore. “And I do feel that we have staff in place that’s going to make that happen.”