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Next Steps in Recycling
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Pictured here is the Barton County Landfill, located at 350 Northeast 30 Road, Great Bend. According to Barton County Administrator Phil Hathcock, thanks to recycling efforts and increased compaction, the lifespan of the landfill has held steady at 60 more years for the past few years. Efforts to increase recycling, like those being considered by Sunflower Diversified Services, will only increase the number of years the county can continue to operate there. - photo by Veronica Coons

Editor’s note: The Barton County landfill is funded through tipping fees. Those are the fees paid when residents or commercial sanitation companies dump trash at the landfill. Despite this, Barton County Administrator Phil Hathcock isn’t worried increased recycling by Sunflower Diversified Services could cut into the fees collected to operate the landfill. Instead, he welcomes their efforts. He shares why in this third in a three-part series about the non-profit’s push to increase the amount of recycling it takes in, helping to boost funding and opportunities for the vital services it provides for its clients. 

If given the choice between collecting dumping fees or diverting trash from the landfill through recycling efforts, recycling is always going to be the way to go, Barton County Administrator Phil Hathcock said. He met with the Tribune Tuesday in advance of Sunflower Diversified Services America Recycles Day event at the recycling center it operates on the West 10th Street in Great Bend.  

“I think recycling should be the focus, not money,” he said. 

Regardless of how its funded, the county will always need a landfill, Hathcock said. But, prolonging its life saves money on the back end, and its anyone’s guess what that price tag could be half a century or more from now. 

Right now, the Barton County Landfill has an estimated life of another 60 years. A lot plays into that.

“As we’ve increased recycling and improved compaction, we’ve stayed right at that mark,” he said. “That 60 years could very well turn into 70 or 80.” 

On the back end, trying to find a new location for a landfill and trying to get a permit through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is a huge undertaking and very expensive, Hathcock said. It cost the county nearly $70,000 recently when it sought over a two year period to okay an expansion of the airspace at the landfill. That only means trash can be piled higher, he added. And the increased costs of environmental monitoring the county will have to undertake will be added to that cost for years to come. At some point, years from now, it could cost $400,000 to $500,000 for the county to get a new site for a landfill approved, and that doesn’t happen overnight. 

“You have to apply for a permit through KDHE, have engineers draw up plans and documents, and then, once you have approval, you have to build the thing, and that can take 2-3 years just to get the drainage issues handled and liners built,” Hathcock said. “Obviously, recycling and finding alternative ways to not put things in the landfill is the way to go.”  

Hathcock has been in discussions with Sunflower and is cautiously optimistic about a proposal to find a way to bring single-strain recycling to Great Bend and eventually the entire county. It’s something that Hoisington has been doing successfully for years now, as the city contracts with a sanitation company that has a sorting facility where it can process the recycling. 

Single-strain recycling means residents who buy-in to the service don’t have to sort their recyclables. They put them in one container to be picked up at the curb, just like taking the trash out. But instead of the landfill, the recycling is taken to a facility where it is sorted by hand. 

Hathcock believes it is the way to go if the county is to get significant buy-in for recycling.  

But, there’s a lot of moving parts, Hathcock said, including how the material will be transported as well as where it can be sorted.  .

“Hopefully we can make it work, and I’d like to see it start in Great Bend and then branch out into the county,” he said. “It isn’t going to be a service that can be offered for free, but I believe people will be more than willing to pay for it if all they have to do with it is put it on the curb.” 

Recycling is working already. Hathcock expects in 20 years, the amount of things dumped in the landfill will be greatly reduced compared to today. About two years ago a program to recycle roofing shingles was started. Venture Corporation of Great Bend uses that material in asphalt, Hathcock said. 

“Monetarily, the decrease in income we are seeing is huge,” Hathcock said. “That’s definitely lengthening the life of the landfill.” 

Another common recyclable that is making its way into county roads is ground glass. In recent years, Sunflower invested in glass grinding equipment, allowing them to process glass on site instead of having to incur the expense of shipping it. So far, it’s been used selectively in county overlay projects. Recently, it was used in an overlay of the employee parking area at the courthouse, Hathcock said, adding the glass replaces sand which has traditionally been used in the asphalt mix. 

Sunflower simply hasn’t gotten the volume of glass needed that is really usable, he said. What they’re getting, the county is using and diverting it from the landfill, but as far as making a huge impact, it hasn’t yet. 

“I think we are in the early stages,” he said. “The movement is there, and that’s what we need.”