JoCo on the Go Podcast: America Recycles Day

On JoCo on the Go, episode #148, we take a look at recycling in Johnson County as we approach America Recycles Day. You will hear what the county is doing to help people reduce the amount of trash that goes into the waste stream. You’ll get the latest on JoCo’s Green Business program and how the county is teaching residents about what should and shouldn’t go in the recycling bin. We’ll also get you up to date on Johnson County’s Household Hazardous Waste program. Please join us as our experts from the JoCo Department of Health and Environment talk all things recycling.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: America Recycles Day

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Time Subject
00:36 Introduction
02:08 About the Green Business Program
03:42 About the Recycle Right Program
09:13 What is actually getting recycled?
13:57 Future of the Household Hazardous Waste Facility
19:31 Where to find more information


Eric Schultz 0:00 

For many in Johnson County, recycling is an ingrained habit. Thousands of pounds of trash are diverted from our landfill every year. November 15 is America Recycles Day. On this episode, we'll get you caught up on recycling in Johnson County. Our experts will tell you everything you need to know about recycling at home and at work.

Announcer 0:22 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Eric Schultz 0:35 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Eric Schultz from Johnson County's Public Information Office. And on today's podcast, we're going to talk about recycling in Johnson County. And I'm joined today by two environmental health specialists from Johnson County's Department of Health and Environment. First I want to welcome Brandon Hearn. Brandon, thanks for being here with us.

Brandon Hearn 0:58 

Hey, thanks for having us.

Eric Schultz 0:59 

And then Eric Nelson, also environmental health specialist. Thanks for being here.

Eric Nelson 1:06 

Thanks, Eric.

Eric Schultz 1:07 

So Brandon, I want to start with you. Next week on Tuesday, November 15, it is America Recycles Day. And so if you could tell us, what's the purpose of that day? What's the aim? What's the significance?

Brandon Hearn 1:20 

Yeah, definitely. So every year, America Recycles Day, kind of like Earth Day, gives us a moment to look at, are we doing a great job recycling? Could we do better? Where can we go that we haven't done already? It allows increased focus on recycling and sustainability, and allows us to communicate with more residents about what are their options for recycling? From our planning side, what kind of things can we look at going forward in the future, and just allows for different community recycling events.

Eric Schultz 1:59 

Eric, I want to bring you in here. And because I know Johnson County has a Green Business Program. And why don't you tell us a little bit more about that?

Eric Nelson 2:08 

Sure, the Green Business Program is a voluntary free program that the county offers to area businesses, civic organizations, churches, things of that nature, schools, that provides technical assistance. We also have a small bin grant program for businesses that want to get started recycling, and also look at energy efficiency, their water resources, things of that nature. So it's really kind of a clearinghouse of information for businesses and other organizations to use some of the expertise of the county and get started taking more sustainable actions.

Eric Schultz 2:43 

What have been some trends that you've been noticing in terms of businesses recycling and businesses being conscious of sustainability?

Eric Nelson 2:53 

Sure, well, in the last few years, we've really seen businesses step up, partly from consumer demand and partly from investor demand. Not only is it, of course, the right thing to do, but businesses are starting to see that this is something that their customers want from them, that other businesses want to see from them when they're doing business with. So not only in recycling, but sustainability as a whole, whether that's energy efficiency, the way they're building their buildings, how they interact with the built environment around them. So it's a pretty exciting time to be in waste management and sustainable materials management and sustainability in general.

Eric Schultz 3:30 

And then in terms of not just businesses, but people in their homes. Brandon, I want you to tell us about the county's program with folks in Prairie Village. It's called the Recycle Right Program.

Brandon Hearn 3:45 

As we try to reach out to residents in several different ways, whether that's classroom presentations, or community group presentations, or social media, working with, you know, other Johnson County organizations, the Johnson County Magazine, we try to get out and reach people with practical information about recycling, where you can take certain items or what certain items maybe have to end up going in your trash. And then so as to deal with the issue of contamination, which is materials that end up in recycling but shouldn't be there. So things that could either get wrapped in equipment or break equipment at the recycling facility, maybe items that could cause safety concerns, or can contaminate or lower the value of other recyclable materials. It's really important what we put in our recycle bins and what go in the recycle bins at businesses that Eric's working with is the right materials, and there can be a lot of confusion around that. And one of our ways of approaching that is direct feedback to Johnson County residents. And that's what this program is. It's a way for us to reach out to either a city or a homeowner's association and provide them information about recycling, what are those items that should go in the recycle bin, and then our contact information if they have questions. And our hope, or what we found, is that when they get direct information that's applicable, then they're more likely to make that behavior change that we want to see. So instead of putting glass in your recycle bin, take it to one of the ripple glass containers that are around town. Instead of bagging your recycling, leave it loose in the recycle bin. That's just two of the several different things, information that we provide people. Our staff goes around house to house, and when the bins are out for collection at the curb, again, we work with the city and the recycling collector, the hauler that's collecting those materials. We do a quick visual inspection of the bin and observation of the bin and then leave what's called an "oops tag" on the bin, letting them know if there's materials that just shouldn't be there. It's not meant to make fun of anybody or make them feel bad. It's just sometimes you don't know until someone tells you. And that's our hope. The most common items are plastic bags, product wrap, like the shrink wrap kind of stuff that's around cases of bottled water or all sorts of different stuff, Amazon shipping pouches, Styrofoam, Kleenexes, napkins, just odd plastic waste, straw, stuff like that. And so we're currently working with Prairie Village. And we worked with City of Mission previous to this, as well as the City of Westwood and a few homeowner's associations. So we're excited to get out there and talk to Prairie Village residents and let them know that we're there to help them.

Eric Schultz 6:52 

Are there other cities that we might see this come to in the future?

Brandon Hearn 6:57 

Yeah, I think there's opportunity in a lot of cities. Prairie Village, with the staff level we have and the amount of homes, will take us a little while, and then obviously getting into the weather, that can be so up and down in Kansas City this time of year. That will take us a while. We have talked with a few other cities, and then there's homeowner's associations. What we kind of need when we do this program is a place that has one trash and collection company. So several cities have a citywide contract with a particular trash or recycling hauler. And a lot of HOAs, homeowner's associations, that's why they were created in the first place is to have collective bargaining of trash. And so that allows us to just have one person to deal with. For instance, there's areas in Overland Park that don't have that. And there's certain areas that have five haulers that come through each week. So there's five different recycling trucks. So it might be like one house is a Monday and the next door neighbor's house is a Thursday. And it's just a logistical nightmare. So there's plenty of space to do what we're currently doing with the cities that have city contracts. And that's what both Prairie Village and Mission have those city contracts. But I think the results are showing that it's a success so far. And I would say a majority of residents are appreciative of getting the information. And a lot of people are doing the right thing already. We very rarely have seen people that are just abusing the recycling process, that are putting trash in there, stuff that clearly shouldn't be there. That's very few. It's mostly people who are doing the right thing, but there's just like a little bit that they can just do a little bit better. And that's our hope is that they just fix those little things and ask us if they have questions.

Eric Schultz 8:52 

Let me ask you guys one at a time. First Eric, you occasionally see skeptics who will say, "Well, you know, we we've been recycling, but recycling isn't really making a difference. I think I read somewhere that only a small percentage of plastics really get recycled." But what would you say to those skeptics?

Eric Nelson 9:12 

Yeah, and that's kind of one of the things I do here for the county is stay up to date on all the current trends and media coming out and those types of stories. I mean, I think a big issue right now is plastics recycling. And, you know, we do have a large issue with a bunch of plastic being created that isn't recyclable. And so, you know, one of the things that we do, that's why our educational pieces are so important. But, you know, it comes down to the fact that when you recycle and remanufacture something from recycled stock, it uses less energy, so less energy is less emissions in the environment, you know, and that's important. Recycling provides a lot of good domestic jobs, which is another point that we really try to hammer home. Historically, we've been sending the bulk of our recycling overseas to be processed and remanufactured into materials to be sent back to us. And right now we have a large reshoring of jobs in American manufacturing. So that's something that's a bright spot. That's simply not possible if we don't have residents and businesses recycling. So that's something that we've really tried to keep in the forefront of people's minds, is that not only is it the right thing to do from an environmental standpoint, but it also is the right thing to do for American manufacturing jobs as well.

Eric Schultz 10:30 

Brandon, what can you tell us about the impact overall on our environment that all our recycling activities are making?

Brandon Hearn 10:39 

Yeah, like Eric said, there are benefits to energy conservation and overall, just sustainability. I think it also comes down to keeping usable materials out of the landfill, just almost like a thought of that, not being wasteful. That's a hard thing to quantify in, like, just not being a wasteful person. You know, if something can take thought, and I can do something else with this material, then what can I do with it? That's kind of the thought behind recycling in general. And I think it's kind of all of our responsibility to have that thought in some way. What can I do with this, instead of wasting it, instead of sending it to a landfill? There are certain materials that should go to the landfill. And if you have trouble knowing what those are, then we're here to help. But for the things that are readily accepted for recycling, we should do that. We should also be thinking about what else can we do with stuff. Reduce, reuse, recycle is in that order for a reason, and looking at ways that we can reduce and reuse materials as well. And then going beyond just waste management and looking at sustainability and all those other avenues that deal with water and energy and air, and all the other components of our life. I think sometimes when people are skeptical of it, it's because it's hard to see behind the curtain of being at a recycling center, going to a landfill, going to a composting facility. You know, you might see a short TikTok video or something on YouTube every once in a while, or a short thing on the news. But to go there, you don't really see it. So I think it's easy for people to view it as being, you know, behind the curtain or whatever. But there are also, our recycling system is made to only accept certain items. So when it gets to that article on a small percentage of plastics being recycled, that's true because a lot of the plastics we use, our system isn't created to take in the first place. So it's really created for plastic soda bottles and milk jugs and those similar type containers, detergent bottles, and other similar things like that. It's not made to take plastic forks and cellophane wrap and, you know, a kid's toy, and it's not meant to take all those things. So we need to go beyond recycling in those situations.

Eric Schultz 13:12 

Yeah, so I guess the long-term answer is for manufacturers to make less of that. And for consumers to use less of that.

Eric Nelson 13:20 

Absolutely, a lot of it comes down to consumer choice.

Eric Schultz 13:23 

You know, speaking of keeping things out of the landfill. One of the things as a community we definitely want to keep out are things like paint and thinners and household hazardous waste. One of the great programs we have here in Johnson County is the Household Hazardous Waste drop-off in Mission. I understand that's going to be moving. And I was wondering, Brandon, if you can just give us an update on that? And what's the future of our Household Hazardous Waste drop-off?

Brandon Hearn 13:55 

Yeah, great question. And it is really important. Besides not going to the landfill, it just gives people a safe option for getting rid of those chemicals and paint and all the things you mentioned, in addition to batteries and tires and fluorescent light bulbs and all this stuff that, you know, has hazard to it. Especially if you're not using it properly or it's not stored properly or it's, you know, something like that. So there needs to be options out there for people. And Johnson County has a great facility as well as the City of Olathe also has a facility that any Johnson County resident can use. And our facility has been located in Mission in a wastewater treatment plant since 1991. And it is a fairly small operation for how much our county has grown. In addition to that, that wastewater plant that we're located on is expanding and renovating. And so we're not going to have room at that same facility, so we were needing to move. And then we're also kind of overdue for the population that we serve. And so we have a place in Overland Park near but not inside the wastewater treatment plant that's located off of just west of...sorry, just east of college. And we're set to move in there spring, beginning of summer of next year. And it will allow more room, still able to reach Johnson County residents, some people may have to drive a little further than before, and some people will have to drive less. But it allows us to collect those materials safely and to reuse them, remix the usable latex paint. There's a number of cool stories, there's a podcast worth of cool stories from the Household Hazardous Waste program. And both me and Eric have worked there before our current positions we're in. And so I know it's something that we could both share a ton of stories about that, but it's allows us to also look at are there options for other materials we could take? And then, just do we have the ability to get more residents in and better, safely dispose of their chemicals?

Eric Schultz 16:20 

Well, that's great to think that we can even expand that really important service. And we look forward to that opening. And that facility is on College Boulevard. I'm thinking just east of 69 Highway. Do I have that right?

Brandon Hearn 16:36 

Yes, yeah.

Eric Schultz 16:37 

For those who may have seen something in the news recently about a fire at a Household Hazardous Waste facility in Ohio that takes materials from other states. Can you tell us if that has any effect on us here in Johnson County.

Brandon Hearn 16:55 

Yeah, so it's not just us in Johnson County, it's all over the Midwest and a good chunk of the country. So we don't process all the materials we get at our Household Hazardous Waste site on site. A number of the hazardous chemicals we get, we bulk together and then have a contractor who comes and takes those to a facility that ultimately either burns it for energy, as in the case with some of our materials, or neutralizes it or incinerates it, which is the case with some of our materials that go to this incinerator in Ohio. And so are mostly our poisons. So that's going to be your household pesticides, your weed-be-gones, your Round Up, anything that's, you know, weed killer, bug killer, and certain other chemicals that we keep an eye out for. That's going to be our poisons, hazard class, and those all get incinerated. And that's the facility that's in the process of repairing from a fire there, is one of the only spots. So it's kind of been an issue with people dropping off those materials. And we just asked people to, if they can use it until it's completely empty, and then just dispose of that empty container in your regular trash. Or just, if they could just be patient and wait a little bit for us until that we're able to take those materials again.

Eric Schultz 18:31 

And any idea when that might be?

Brandon Hearn 18:35 

We're still working on that. But it shouldn't be more than a couple months. We just have certain capacity that we can reach at that facility. And then once it gets close to being full, it's, you know, you have to just have safety and all that as the top priority. So people, hold on to it, you know, for a little bit. City of Olathe has been impacted by that. There's places all over the Midwest. And that's true for, you know, bigger companies that hire hazardous waste contractors as well.

Eric Schultz 19:14 

Eric and Brandon, this has been great information. Before we let you go, Eric, I want to give you a one last opportunity if people want to get in touch with you about recycling at their place of work or at their business, can you direct them to more information?

Eric Nelson 19:31 

Sure, the easiest way to get a hold of me is actually just to Google Johnson County Green Business Program. And that will take you to the website that will give you a bunch of resources. Not just my contact information, but things that folks can do on their own, whether they're inside or outside the county, to help make a more sustainable business. So my email address is also

Eric Schultz 19:54 

Alright, perfect. Well, again, I want to thank you guys both for coming on and talking about recycling opportunities in Johnson County. I want to just let our viewers and listeners know for more information about recycling, you can go to Besides Eric and Brandon, I want to thank everyone who watches and listens to the podcast. Remember to recycle and have a great day.

Announcer 20:22 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

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