If you’re one of those people who wonders whether the plastic bottles you toss in the recycling bin ultimately just end up in the dumpster, this story isn’t going to help cure your inherent cynicism.
A series of investigations over the past week has uncovered that Prairie Village Public Works staffers charged with removing recyclables from city parks and events have been simply throwing them in the trash. Evidence of the situation surfaced last Wednesday at the city’s Parks and Recreation committee meeting when a Public Works employee, apparently not thinking much of it, casually mentioned that crews “just picked up a load for trash” at Franklin Park, even though the park has clearly marked recycling bins.
“They were just taking everything and throwing it in the Public Works trash dumpster,” said City Councilor Ashley Weaver, who, along with Councilor Ruth Hopkins, brought the situation to the council’s attention at Monday’s meeting. “I think they think this is no big deal — that no one will care.”
“People do care,” Hopkins said. “It’s a huge breach of the public trust.”
The situation was apparently compounded by an incident after the Prairie Village Jazz Festival. City Administrator Quinn Bennion had led a Boy Scout troop in separating recyclables from vendors’ refuse throughout the day, placing it in clear bags to distinguish it from the black-bagged trash. But after word came that Public Works may not have been properly handling recyclable waste, Bennion went down to the Public Works facility off Somerset to confirm that the bags the scouts had worked hard to keep out of the landfill were, indeed, in the recycling dumpster. He found them mixed in with the trash. The recycling dumpster was empty.
The situation prompted a wave of intense questioning for Public Works Director Bruce McNabb, who said his preliminary investigation into the issue revealed a series of miscommunications that were responsible for the problem. Public Works employees on Saturday had not properly informed members of the crew schedule to pick up trash on Monday that the clear bags from the Jazz Fest were to be recycled, McNabb said — though the answer did little to satisfy many council members, who expressed shock at the audacity of Public Works employees.
Hopkins said that her investigation into the issue suggests that the situation predated McNabb, and has been going on for several years.
Bennion said he’s worked with McNabb to immediately implement a change in process for Franklin Park, and would be continuing to look into what caused the situation.
“We don’t know if it was a training issue or a communications issue or what led to it,” Bennion said. “We’ll continue to work with Public Works to make sure that recyclables end up where they are supposed to.”