Theresa Freed: [00:00] Reduce, reuse, recycle. That's the message from Johnson County's Department of Health and Environment. When it comes to sustainability. On this week's episode, you'll hear from Johnson County experts who will share the ins and outs of recycling and composting offering some tips you can use at home and work to minimize waste. Find out about a new campaign that looks specifically at food waste. A big portion of what goes into landfills here is food. Learn what you can do to reduce what's going in the trash,
Announcer: [00:28] 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.
Theresa Freed: [00:42] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Today we're talking about sustainability, minimizing waste and how we can each do our part to help with the environment. To get us started on that conversation, I'm joined by Craig Wood with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. Thanks for being here.
Craig Wood: [01:01] No problem.
Theresa Freed: [01:02] All right. To start off with, can you just tell us what your role is with the County?
Craig Wood: [01:07] My role is kind of twofold. For every County in Kansas, we have to provide a solid waste management plan. So we have to plan for the future of what's going to happen to trash. And so we also have to look into the future and see what's coming down. And so that whole planning process usually takes us about a year and not every county goes to that extent. And the other part of my job is Johnson County is lucky to host the largest number of solid waste facilities in the state. And also we have the largest facilities. So what I do is I, we permit all of the solid waste facilities. So landfills transfer station, a compost site a recycling center, and then several different types of landfills. One is construction, demolition landfills, and the other one is what we call a municipal landfill, which are kind of the modern landfills that are lined and highly engineered.
Theresa Freed: [02:10] You know, most people are familiar with recycling. We do our best, I'm probably not always doing it right, but it's a fairly easy step for us to reuse and conserve. So what does sustainability look like here in Johnson County?
Craig Wood: [02:22] Sustainability has many different faces in Johnson County and really waste is only one of them. We're, we're working on all kinds of different things. We actually have a sustainability person that is focused on that and I'm sure he could tell you all kinds of different tales for me. But as far as like solid waste goes, really what it comes down to is, is when we produce waste, what do we do with it? Can we avoid producing that waste? And if we can avoid things and, and use things multiple times and not have to throw things away, or if we can reuse them kind of that reduce, reuse, recycle kind of thing, now it's expanded to avoid waste. You know, reuse and then recycle and then you can get what they call energy recovery. So in a lot of products, energy is embedded in those products. So then you can either you can compost them or you can use anaerobic digestion is another technology. And then kind of the last thing on this pyramid is the landfill. So basically the idea is if you keep taking things away, then just a very little bit ends up in that landfill. And, and for the foreseeable future, I think landfills are a good thing. You know, that they protect that they're designed to take that material, but we just want to minimize what's going in there because they're very, very costly.
Theresa Freed: [03:49] And it seems like for Johnson County and probably a lot of other communities as well this is a pretty big priority and it's, there's a growing need for us to be conserving and to minimize waste. So, so what are you seeing as far as that can, that goes
Craig Wood: [04:05] That, that is exactly right. We, we have, we're one of the few counties in Kansas that is actually growing in population. And so, really since about 2009, we have been staying steady in our generation, in Johnson County with growing about 10,000, you know, citizens a year. So that's fantastic. Which means our generation is going down, which means we're diverting a lot of things away from the landfill and, and really that what that's entailing are the consequences. Good consequences of that is that our landfill is going to last longer. And also when we look at that landfill closing then we're better suited to actually transport our trash further distances for cheaper prices because we don't have as much.
Theresa Freed: [04:52] Okay. That's all good information. So a big priority obviously is recycling for, for the County. For, for residents here, what are some common sorts of do's and don'ts that you guys are seeing?
Craig Wood: [05:05] Okay. well that that hits a lot of things. Lots of times what we'll do is we've spent years really just saying, recycle, recycle, recycle, recycle. And you know, we've kind of gotten away from that now and it's, we want quality because a lot you've probably seen in the news where they're talking about China's not taking anything anymore and the recyclables aren't worth anything. Well, there's still value in certain items, but it's very particular and really in the Midwest here and all three of the material recovery facilities, those are the waste. Those are the recycling, sorting facilities have gone to more of a, we want really clean material and what they're doing is they're not selling overseas, they're selling actually domestically here in the Midwest to factories and things like that. And that the, our factory or manufacturing capability of dealing with recycled material is actually growing and looks to grow over the next number of years.
Craig Wood: [06:09] So that we're not having a lot of the problems that they are on the coasts. Only about, from what I've talked to our local MRFs is what they are called, material recovery facilities is that really we're only sending about 5% of the material that we're gathering here in the Midwest overseas. So about 95% of it is staying right here in the Midwest. So the stuff that we're putting in the recycle bin, what should that be? Okay, so you have number of main con constituents. Plastics, plastics are very confusing because everybody sees the little trailing arrows on the bottoms that does, that, that is more of a resin code than, Hey, that's recyclable. Unfortunately the manufacturers don't necessarily talk to the recyclers but really the, the main ones that, you know, we can recycle are ones, twos and fives.
Craig Wood: [07:06] Those are the main ones that everybody wants. They still want them. The other ones I would say you're probably better off throwing them away right now, but you know, I hate to say that because I want people to recycle. So but mainly what they want is clean materials. So no matter what the plastic is, if you have a yogurt cup, rinse it out, you don't have to run it through the dishwasher. Same thing with the peanut butter jar, wipe it out with a paper towel, put it in there. You know, they, they will sort what they can. And they have, they're really good at that. And so if they have a market for it, then go ahead and throw it in there. So I would say don't wish cycle if you don't know if it goes into the bin or not.
Craig Wood: [07:51] If there's not a list there if you think, ah, I don't know that I'd really want that, then throw that in the trashcan. But other things are that are valuable are paper, any kind of cardboard is very valuable. That's probably the thing that's most valued on the recycling market right now. But clean office paper I'm trying to think. That's steel cans. All of that is perfectly good to go into your, into your recycle bin. Now some things that are plastic but that don't go into your recycling bin, are plastic bags because those get tangled up in the sorting equipment and sometimes blow away. And a lot of times we'll have kind of food residuals and stuff in them and anything like that that's going to wrap around really you can segregate that over into a different Ben if you have one.
Craig Wood: [08:43] And those can, most of the grocery stores in Johnson County and in Kansas city, will take those in to actually recycle them. So any kind of, we call them film in the industry, so any kind plastic bag like that. And so you don't want to put those in there. And we've, we've developed a campaign that's called ditch the bag. And the other part of it is a lot of people, what we've found is they put their, their in the recycle bin, they'll put it in a trash bag and then they'll put the recycling in there. Well, my plea is try not to do that or don't do that because when you put that in there and then they get it in their truck, that's going to go right to the landfill. So you know all your hard work sorting that stuff is going to go to waste if literally waste, if you put it in a plastic bag.
Craig Wood: [09:33] So we don't, you want free, happy recycling in, inside there. The other things are things like metal. Everyone knows pretty well metal is, but don't throw a chair in your recycling bin. Believe it or not, we've seen that. And so you don't want to put large items in there or like I said, if you think it is recyclable or I could do that you know, just kind of avoid that, really keep it to those consumer products and, and make sure that it's clean doesn't have food waste in it or they're not filthy.
Theresa Freed: [10:08] Okay. I think I heard when in doubt, toss it out.
Craig Wood: [10:11] Yes. Yes. That's okay. That's okay.
Theresa Freed: [10:14] All right. That sounds good. All right, so the next thing we want to cover is the solid waste management plan. You touched on that just a little bit but we want to go into a little bit more detail about what that is and what impact that has on the residents.
Craig Wood: [10:27] Well it's just exactly what, what a, it sounds like it's our plan to see what, how do we move into the future and make sure, and Johnson County is kind of unique because we don't own or operate any kind of the solid waste system yet we're responsible for planning it. So what we do is really partner with all of the facilities and we have good relationships with everybody. But really what it comes down to is we want to make sure that we have the amount of capacity for all of our citizens and all of the trash generated in Johnson County. So we also have an interesting part because our landfill is big enough that we get material regionally. So we also have to plan for other people utilizing our, the facility that's within our boundaries. What our plan does is really lay out what are the priorities.
Craig Wood: [11:16] So one of the things that we're looking at now is w in the past plans, what we've done is things like our yard waste restriction because that was taking up about 13% of the volume by weight or I guess weight of what was going into the Johnson County landfills. So now all of that goes off to composting. And so we've saved some of that area or that weight. And then now we've got more room in that landfill. Also, one of the things that we're doing is if we can, we can plan for that, then we can start to talk about, okay, what's next, and how much can we reduce more? Like food is one of the current things that we're looking at and how do we, how do we isolate that and find, not only does it go into the, into the landfill, but can we use a different, can we use it differently and maybe divert it good food, not just, you know, not post-consumer, but pre-consumer food waste. How do we get that to people that are hungry? So those kinds of things so that we're not using up valuable landfill space unnecessarily.
Theresa Freed: [12:26] Okay. And I think you've mentioned this too, but composting is a big part of minimizing waste. So how does Johnson County help private residents and then also our businesses in implementing that and doing that every day?
Craig Wood: [12:39] One of the number of years ago, we did a big campaign on backyard composting and we provided a lot of information out there. So I still go talk to homes associations or if there's, we'll hold composting seminars, I guess. And so we'll teach people how to compost right. A lot of people have misnomers about it. I've had several people question why their neighbors are doing it. And are they doing it right? I know a couple of cities like Prairie Village, they actually have rules on composting. Most of the cities do. There are a few homes associations that don't like it because a lot of people don't do it well. And so but if you do it right, it helps because then from a capacity standpoint, you never have to pick it up. And so you can, you can do your leaves, you can do food, you can do now vegetative waste now, no meat in your backyard composting.
Craig Wood: [13:37] But we've, we've taught a lot of people how to do that. It's a great way. Instead of turning into methane through an anaerobic process in the landfill, it actually turns to carbon dioxide that goes to like global warming, those kinds of concerns. But you can turn it all of your, your organic waste into a very valuable material called compost that helps your, your yard stay green. It helps develop soils so that water can infiltrate into your yard. So it's a really valuable material that you can use to help your, your plants and trees and things like that on your, on your property to flourish and have a, a really good product for storm water runoff in those kinds of things. So then we also have what's called commercial composting. That is when we would have mainly a large quantity generators, businesses, a cafeterias, things like that.
Craig Wood: [14:39] Where it goes to a larger composting site. It's actually transported by larger trash trucks because you know, you have grocery stores and, and food manufacturers and things that, well, those piles are a lot bigger. They're like 10 feet high, about 12 feet wide. But you can actually put meat in those. And that's why you see commercial so attracted to it because it's a great process. And if you get, it's hot enough to be able to do that that it basically sterilizes all any kind of pathogens that are in there. So even in backyard conditions, you know, as long as it's vegetative there, you shouldn't have any problem if you do it right with odors or any, you know, shouldn't disturb your neighbors. My neighbors don't even know it's there until I'm out there harvesting it. And then they're like, what are you doing?
Craig Wood: [15:32] And, and I'm harvesting my compost and, and I use it all over my yard. You can make compost tea. There's all kinds of things you can do with compost. Google's a good friend on, on a composting and it's a great resource, but that, that's one of the main things with food is that it's got high moisture content and you have, it's more of a nitrogen source. And not to get too much into composting, but you want to balance your nitrogen and your, and your co carbon. And that's what makes compost heat up and, and it's a beautiful thing.
Theresa Freed: [16:06] Okay. Sounds complicated. But the great news is that Johnson County is here to support people. Yes.
Craig Wood: [16:11] And if you have questions, you can contact the Department of Health and Environment and I pretty much guarantee they'll find me to explain how to do it right.
Theresa Freed: [16:20] Okay. And I understand that through the Facebook page you can also, like residents can ask questions and, and get good advice.
Craig Wood: [16:27] Absolutely. Absolutely. Our Facebook manager will definitely get me, get all those composting and trash questions to me if, if needed.
Theresa Freed: [16:37] Okay. And individuals obviously can ask those questions, but you guys also do a lot to educate the public in terms of presentations. So how does somebody request one of those or get more information for a larger group?
Craig Wood: [16:50] Yeah, if you want to contact the Department of Health and Environment, just ask and say, Hey, I'd like a presentation on, you know, trash, recycling, composting, anything that you want that's environmentally related. We can do all kinds of different education from air quality. Our program's really spread out through that we do septic systems and stuff. If you have any questions about those kind of, those kinds of items feel free to give us a call. We get all kinds of interesting questions. So there's probably not a whole lot we haven't heard of.
Theresa Freed: [17:29] Sure. And so aside from, from the information side of that, are there additional resources that are available that people can get
Craig Wood: [17:38] There are you know, Johnson County specific, probably a good to contact to us. There's a lot of resources out there just you know, on those kinds of topics. But sometimes we have different rules than say Kansas City, Missouri would have, but there's a lot of great resources. One that I didn't mention earlier when we were talking about recycling is we have some resources on our website, but one that's good regionally in the Kansas City Metro area is called RecycleSpot.org. And if you have something that might be you don't think goes in the recycling bin, but a, say you have a tire that does not go in your recycling bin, but if you look up on RecycleSpot.org They can tell you where to take your used tire and it will get recycled.
Theresa Freed: [18:25] Great. Okay. So a lot of good information there and we will have more about this on jocogov.org and I thank you very much for joining us. Thank you. Continuing our conversation about sustainability in Johnson County, we have with us Renee Bryant, she's also with the Department of Health and Environment. Thanks for being here with us.
Renee Bryant: [18:45] No, thank you for having me.
Theresa Freed: [18:46] All right. So to start off with, can you just tell us a little bit about your role within the County?
Renee Bryant: [18:51] Yes. I have been with the County for over 25 years this year. And I am the Food Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for the County and I really work and lead the Food Policy Council of the County.
Theresa Freed: [19:03] Okay. That takes me to my next question there. What exactly is the Food Policy Council?
Renee Bryant: [19:08] The Food Policy Council is a council appointed by our Board of County Commissioners. That happened in 2016 and so what that council does is advise the Board of County Commissioners as well as other decision makers in the County around policies, practices, education, knowledge and the entire food system.
Theresa Freed: [19:29] Okay. So what sorts of things does that encompass?
Renee Bryant: [19:30] Sure. they have prioritized for the top issues that they'll be working on in the next couple of years. Really the underlying factor of why the food policy council originated or why it's there is the foods or insecurity in Johnson County. You know, a lot of folks think that, you know, we don't have people that are food insecure in our County, but actually we have almost 60,000 individuals that do not know where their next meal's coming from. That's the definition of food insecurity. So in looking at that, we are a little bit unique that we, the individuals are spread out throughout the County. So that's the underlying issue of, of most of the initiatives. Food insecurity and the relationship with hunger-free healthcare food waste, local food production, those types of things.
Theresa Freed: [20:13] Okay. And I understand that you guys have a new campaign coming out and can you tell us about that?
Renee Bryant: [20:18] Yes, it is called Save the Food Johnson County. We're beginning this in Thanksgiving time. It will be really a longer campaign, more of an initiation of, of starting the conversation around food, food waste and our awareness. We are leveraging the ad council in the Natural Resource Defense Centers ad campaign called savethefood.com.
Theresa Freed: [20:39] So why should people care about this issue?
Renee Bryant: [20:42] Yes, we can probably all think of food waste and things that we've done and things we've thrown away. But really it's a, it's a much bigger picture than that. If you think of all the food in United States that's been produced, 40% of that has never been eaten. So when you think of all that food that has been wasted, consumers are the largest wasters at 43%. And what sorts of things are we wasting the most of food and it's really residential use. It's consumers. And so those folks in the home estimated costs that each family of four is anywhere from 15 to $1,800 a month or excuse me, a year that they're wasting on food that that food can otherwise go to other things that they want to do.
Theresa Freed: [21:26] I know I've, I've I think it was a meme that said something like it was a picture of the crisper, you know, the, in your refrigerator or good intentions go to die. So imagine that's quite a bit of it where people are just buying things that they probably won't really eat. Is that right?
Renee Bryant: [21:41] Yup. I think the biggest thing that we can all think about is the death of the strawberries, the strawberry canister or the container that we buy. We put in the, all good intentions and then pretty soon it's a little fuzzy and into the trash it goes right.
Theresa Freed: [21:54] So what can we do about that?
Renee Bryant: [21:56] Okay. Some of the biggest challenges that we face, for individuals at home is, is really lack of awareness. How to wash that strawberry. Actually don't wash the strawberry before you put in in your refrigerator. Things she can do as simple as throwing in asparagus in some water when you store it. Like flowers, I'm really lack of awareness is probably the biggest thing. And the education confusion over date labels is probably one of the biggest as well. When it says expired best by due date, those are not safety, those are not safety regulated. So there's no need to toss those. You can firstname.lastname@example.org and then they'll let you know just exactly when those foods really do need to be tossed or if they need to be tossed. Poor storage, poor planning, 55% of our purchases at the grocery store are unplanned. So when we have unplanned food, we have cooked food and then we don't know how to eat it. So we haven't made a plan.
Theresa Freed: [22:52] And one of the tips I know I've heard before is don't go to the grocery store. On an empty stomach?
Renee Bryant: [22:56] Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
Theresa Freed: [22:58] Okay. So say we purchased a lot of food for an event at work or you know, a party or something like that and over purchased. Is there anything that we can do with those leftover meals or, or items?
Renee Bryant: [23:08] Absolutely. I mean, when we look at the bigger picture, we're looking at not consuming a lot of wasted food because there are again, individuals in our community that that could utilize that food. But if you're looking at home reducing that food and I think overproduction of food over buying of food reason why we're launching savethefood.com right now is, is the next couple holidays, big holidays that are coming are probably already preparing our shopping list already buying in overbulk So the biggest things you can do is plan and look at savethefood.com. That's one of the reasons why we're launching this social media campaign to help consumers and residents as they get through that holiday planning. There's something called the Guestimator on the plan. You can actually put in how many eaters you're gonna have. Are they small liters, big eaters? Are you going to have Turkey ham? What are you going to do? You know, that, that will tell you how much to buy. That's just one of the tools on the save the food.
Theresa Freed: [24:11] All right. And so there's a lot of great information on that website.
Renee Bryant: [24:14] Absolutely
Theresa Freed: [24:15] So we encourage everybody to go there if they have questions about things they can do when they're at their home or at work in order to help Save the Food. Right. All right, well that's a great information. Thank you so much for joining us. All right, thanks for listening.
Announcer: [24:30] 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 jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.