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Opinion: Trash talk is okay as long as it’s factual

In today’s polarized political environment, sometimes it’s hard to get past the noise and reach the facts. A recent editorial about a proposed Kansas City landfill published in this outlet is an example of such noise.

I recently read an article about a few residents of Creekmoor, which is located in Raymore, Missouri, who are upset about a landfill proposed for construction in Kansas City, Missouri, nearly a mile away.

However, according to a report released by the Jackson County Health Department citing a study from the ATSDR, “the gases most commonly emitted from landfills are not harmful to human health at the levels often found in the ambient air.”

And so, let us see if we can put aside the overheated rhetoric and ask a simple question: Does Kansas City really need another landfill? Since this is college football season, in the words of Coach Deion Sanders “let’s talk trash with facts”.

Kansas City is the 30th-largest metro area in the country, with over 2.2 million residents, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. In contrast to the state’s other major metropolitan area, St. Louis – whose population has stagnated in recent decades – the Kansas City metro has added nearly a half million new residents since 2000.

According to the Mid-America Regional Council Chief Resilience Officer Tom Jacobs, Kansas Citians generate an average of 7.5 pounds of waste each day, That means the area produces 7,500 tons of trash every day –2.7 million tons a year!

Although there are six landfills within approximately one hour of the Kansas City region, municipal solid waste from the Kansas City Metro is primarily disposed in 3 landfills: Johnson County Landfill, Courtney Ridge Landfill, and Central Missouri Landfill. Waste from the Kansas City region does not generally travel up to St. Joseph, MO, nor are significant levels disposed at the landfills in Warrensburg, MO or near Lawrence, KS due to geography (i.e., very heavy travel and environmental costs.)

In 2011, engineers determined that Courtney Ridge had roughly a decade of remaining space, and in response, the landfill expanded. Though MO DNR initially estimated the expansion would add 40 more years of space, DNR’s 2022 study found that it only had 19 years remaining – thanks to the fact that Courtney Ridge is accepting more waste per day than all but one other landfill in Missouri. Underwhelming recycling habits have also added to this conundrum. So, due to our region generating a higher-than-expected amount of trash, as well as the closure of other area landfills, Courtney Ridge is filling up twice as quickly as expected. According to KCUR, while Kansas City could consider diverting more trash to the Johnson County (KS) Landfill, that would occupy scarce landfill space needed to absorb northeast Kansas waste, and would thus be a poor long-term solution.

Here is data about the capacity of the three landfills that accept most of the municipal waste generated in the Kansas City Metro:

Landfill Total Permitted Capacity, cy Estimated Remaining Capacity as of September 1, 2023, cy Approximate Capacity Used per Year, cy/yr Approximate Remaining Life, years

Central Missouri Landfill 17,577,820 6,670,295 863,271 7.7

Courtney Ridge Landfill 31,898,031 14,621,818 842,515 17.4

Johnson County Landfill 88,178,808 22,909,815 1,494,296 15.3

Combined Regional Data 137,654,659 44,201,929 3,200,082 13.8

Estimated Closure Date 2037

Examining the combined capacity of the three landfills serving the Kansas City Metro area and the space used each year, the combined life of the landfills is under 15 years. When one landfill runs out of space, the waste goes to another landfill, which uses its space up more quickly.

If these landfills run out of space, the region will be forced to ship all municipal waste to Warrensburg, MO or Lawrence, KS, incurring massive financial and environmental costs – shipping prices will rise dramatically, the region’s reliance on fossil fuels will increase, and our air quality will suffer substantially if trucks must transport waste further every day to reach a final point of disposal. In short, families who already struggle to pay their bills will struggle even more to pay an increased trash bill. As MO DNR Permit Unit Chief David Drilling recently stated, “we’re used to seeing (landfills) within a couple of miles of urban centers just because it affects your transportation costs if they (garbage trucks) have to go far.”

So, if we’re still 14 years away from running out of space, why start now?

According to Drilling, the “rule of thumb is when a landfill gets down to eight to 10 years of life, they need to start looking to either expand or close down,” because, as Drilling noted, the permitting process alone takes 7-8 years, not including the time it takes to engage with residents or nearby cities.

Tom Jacobs, with the Mid-America Regional Council, concurs: “If we’re just looking at landfill capacity and backing out our timeline, then within 10 years it would make sense for us doing that,” he said. “We might wanna start community conversations sooner because these are complicated endeavors.”

Under Mayor Quinton Lucas, Kansas City has taken steps to reduce its trash generation through new sustainability initiatives (i.e., bigger recycling carts and a food waste composting program). And yet a new landfill may be unavoidable, according to KCUR. Mayor Lucas said that the topic deserves a “full regional conversation”.

As a Lee’s Summit resident who lives less than 2 miles from the proposed landfill and a leading pastor in south Kansas City, MO – I am lending my voice and influence so that respectful and factual community conversations can be held and an intelligent, needed, and factual decision can be made. Again, it’s okay to trash talk as long as it’s factual