Recycling in rural Kansas improves
While 70 percent of the State of Kansas’s population
resides in urban areas – Kansas City, Wichita, Topeka
and Lawrence, the recycling rate of households,
be it urban or rural, is around the 25 percent level.
While most urban recycling programs are similar
to those in other cities and towns – recycling programs
in rural Kansas depend upon individuals making the
effort to recycle and on volunteers to donate their
time at regional and sub-regional recycling centers.
“Rural communities have a closer knit group of folks
that will buy into community initiatives,” Sarah
Krom, the president of The Kansas Organization of
Recyclers (KOR), “and they also have more folks
that are actually involved in employment or livelihoods
that depend on the good use of our natural resources.”
Asked why urban communities did not have a higher
recycling rate, she replied, “My guess is that where
it is not a mandatory program, urban areas do not
make it as convenient as it needs to be for people
that are having very long work days with commutes.”
Rural residents may only have weekly solid waste
collection, and it is up to them to sort their recyclables
and take them to a subsidiary location or central
recycling center. In some cases the materials are
sorted at the center or are placed in sections for
metals, glass, paper and plastics.
“Most rural communities have drop-off locations
that are manned by volunteers and those volunteers
do the final source separation,” said Krom. “At
Sunflower Diversified’s 1st Step Recycling in Great
Bend, people are asked to pre-separate their recyclables
and staff are available to assist as needed to ensure
a clean product for our buyers.”
Recycling centers have few employees, but those
that are hired are responsible for the baling, crushing
and other processes that are considered to be dangerous
Krom stresses that volunteers are essential to the
success of rural recycling programs.
“They are probably more important than anything
else,” she said. “Without the volunteers, we would
not have the ability to get things prepared for
trailers to come pick up the materials. The volunteers
also encourage others to participate in the program.
Having an increasing number of younger volunteers
is expected to improve environmental awareness on
the grand scale and improve recycling rates in the
short and long terms.
KOR has also embraced the Internet as a tool to
get more people recycling.
Individual counties and towns often coordinate events
such as e-waste collections and information campaigns,
especially as some regional centers serve as focal
points for many of the states 105 counties, of which
98 are considered to be rural.
An e-waste collection event will often be used to
collect other recyclables and as an educational
“What we have found in most of our rural counties
is that we take every opportunity to make sure that
every aspect of recycling in that county or local
area is covered,” said Krom, “whether it is household
hazardous waste or e-waste collection or a special
Earth Day event. We make sure that the information
is there and opportunities are available to recycle.
“Our Great Bend facility takes material from about
six counties for processing and preparation for
shipment,” she added. “There are several facilities
like that, such as those in Pratt and Colby.”
Krom said that some of the excuses for not having
curbside collection in rural areas “do not stand
up to the weight of scrutiny – there are just so
many different variables.
“Some communities do not have single-service solid
waste collection, they have a number of private
haulers,” she said, “so any program put in place
affects maybe 2 to 10 private haulers. Some cities
have one individual waste hauler and they are part
of a route and they just haven’t looked at source
separation being an answer to solid waste concerns.
In Kansas you pay for waste collection privately
or as part of your city’s utility cost.”
Krom appreciates the Kansas Department of Health
and Environment’s (KDHE) programs that distribute
funds and grants for start-up programs and innovative
recycling projects. These grants have allowed urban
and rural facilities to update their equipment to
maintain or improve efficiency levels and to expand
services and recycling rates.
“In rural areas,” said Krom, “this has led to purchases
of trailers that can travel to various communities
to pick up recyclables and to hold collection events,
such as those for e-waste. Businesses involved in
recycling have also received grants to improve their
collections and processing so that they could handle
Recyclables, in some cases are used as feedstock
by local manufacturers, but for most communities,
said Krom, the materials are purchased by brokers
who market them.
Rodney Ferguson, Public Service Executive of the
state’s DHE’s Waste Reduction, Public Education,
and Grants Unit, said that many rural communities
have really strong recycling programs. He recently
attended a KOR meeting in which a woman from Stockton,
a small town in northwest Kansas, praised her community
for its recycling rate and impressed the audience
how it matched the recovery rate in urban areas.
The key, said Ferguson, is to make recycling convenient,
easy and quick.
The increasing cost of fuel, which has recently
experienced a substantial drop from the low $150
range to the low $120 level, is also having an impact
on waste collection and recycling pickups.
“It is threatening the system, especially with the
smaller amounts of aggregate material in the western
part of the state,” said Ferguson, “and then having
to travel, even when it is a truckload of material
to have it brokered out, initially processed or
used to manufacture an end product.”
Kansas Green Teams, an initiative created by Governor
Kathleen Sebelius via an executive order to have
all state offices and departments recycle by 2007,
was expanded to local units of government and businesses.
Kansas does not have a state-mandated diversion
or recycling rate.
“We try to make it a voluntary type of approach
because we think we are more successful that way
with carrots and sticks more so than a hammer approach,”
said Ferguson. “I know the amount of natural resources
generated per person and what is being diverted
by recycling. We are making progress in diversion.
We are proud of our diversion rate, but we can do
better. Kansans are following the national tide
of the green consciousness, something we have not
seen since the 1970s and it is going to stay in
the national lexicon.”
Kansas is open to taking ideas developed by other
states and jurisdictions and to sharing its knowledge
“You don’t have to re-invent the wheel when you
see a program that is having great effect,” said