The “No Dumping” sign on the electric pole warns of a $1,000 fine or a year in jail.
It does not work.
Across the street, empty milk jugs, countless crushed water bottles, a freshly discarded white plastic bag and other trash roam freely along an alley in this northeastern neighborhood. east of Kansas City.
“It’s very discouraging,” said Mark Morales, president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, as he adjusted his sunglasses and surveyed the litter. “Knowing that a lot of people in the neighborhood keep their homes clean…and other residents throw out all the trash.”
It’s one of dozens of “problem areas” in its neighborhood and throughout Kansas City, as trash piles up despite regular cleanup campaigns by residents and the city.
But two initiatives by municipal authorities may offer a glimmer of hope.
▪ A proposal before city council would provide large trash cans for all residents, at a cost of $17 million. Officials say those trash cans would hold more trash than the current two-bag limit the city currently has, so perhaps residents wouldn’t feel the need for illegal dumping. And trash cans could do a better job of containing trash so it doesn’t blow around neighborhoods.
▪ A city audit released last week found that it takes the public works department an average of 24 days to clean up a landfill after receiving a report. The audit also revealed that resident satisfaction with the cleanup of illegal dumpsites is at its lowest in six years. Officials say they can use this data to streamline services and respond to complaints more quickly.
“Waste is toxic”
The east side of Kansas City is the hardest hit by illegal dumping, said Rachel Riley, president of the East 23rd Street Pac neighborhood association, which organized a cleanup last Saturday.
“The waste is toxic to our community and needs to be dealt with immediately,” Riley said. “We are slammed. … It looks like a dump on the east side.
She said the garbage problem started to deteriorate when the city limited garbage collection to two bags per week per household. Additional bags costs $2.50 each.
People often drive to other neighborhoods to dump their trash, especially if they already see trash in that neighborhood, said Kelly Allen, director of special projects for the Lykin neighborhood in the northeast.
This is called the broken window theory. George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson first described it in a landmark 1982 article, claiming that neighborhood unrest – like a broken window – invites more crime.
Every month, Allen said, the association organizes a cleanup. Residents used four huge dumpsters and started at 8 a.m., working until all the dumpsters were full. Last time it only took two hours.
“When those resources disappear, it’s the low-income neighborhoods that suffer the most,” Allen said.
She said the two-bag limit seems “burdensome for families who are already struggling”, pointing to one of her neighbours’ homes where three generations of a family live.
“Always a problem”
In his report released last week, City Auditor Doug Jones focused on the public works department’s response time and community engagement efforts.
Cleaning requests made through the city’s 311 system take about 24 days for a response, according to the audit. But not all requests go through this system.
Some are done informally, with a phone call or message to Director of Public Works Michael Shaw. And these are passed on to the city’s illegal dumps investigators.
Shaw said he doesn’t believe there’s an “intentionality to make things happen faster than anywhere else.” His team cleans the sites almost daily. Sometimes his crews drive past a waste site and simply stop to clean it up, whether or not it’s on a request list.
Shaw said he didn’t realize how long it took to process complaints.
The audit suggested creating targets to improve response times. Shaw said the goal should be 24 to 48 hours.
The audit urged officials to launch a public awareness campaign showing how illegal dumping harms public health and the environment and to remind people of the laws and their consequences.
Jones said his office also conducted audits of illegal dumps in 1996 and 2000.
“It’s still a problem,” Jones said. “It’s really going to have to get the community involved.”
A new homeless encampment bylaw that requires 48 hours notice before the city can ask people to leave also affects how public works can clean up the sites, the city spokeswoman said. town, Maggie Green.
Shaw said his crews have been picking up an additional 30,000 tons of trash since 2019, when the city took over garbage collection from private contractors.
Shaw said he sees the spill as a symptom of a larger problem: that people need more disposal options.
“Litter is a big deal,” Shaw said. “We recognize that … so we need to put a lid on and reduce the amount of litter that happens in our community.”
At one of the city’s problematic sites near East 37th Street and Oakley Avenue, Alan Ashurst, an investigator into the city’s illegal dumps, pointed to a pile of lumber, tires and bags thrown away. Behind it, a city worker discovered a body last year while investigating an illegal dump.
This site is not the one receiving 311 requests but it is on the list to be cleaned once a month, Ashurst said.
“It’s easy to get mad at the city. Remember, we’re not the ones littering here,” Ashurst said.
Once his employees find trash, they search it for evidence, knock on doors, and try to figure out who’s responsible. He said he has written about 1,200 tickets since 2013, with just seven repeat offenders.
Council members Heather Hall and Melissa Robinson, representing Districts 1 and 3 respectively, introduced an ordinance to purchase garbage cans and recycling bins for residents. It would take nearly $6.2 million from reserve COVID-19 stimulus funding and an additional $10.8 million from the city’s general fund.
After introducing him last week, Hall held up a stack of papers almost a foot tall – all voter complaints.
“It’s a huge deal,” Hall told The Star. “And the more illegal dumps there are, the worse our city looks. When our city looks the way it does, it can also increase crime and just a feeling of restlessness and people not feeling good in their community. We don’t want that for Kansas City.
Each trash can would hold up to 80 pounds of trash, compared to the 40 pounds that two trash bags combined can hold now, Robinson said. This extra capacity would help prevent trash and recycling from scattering before the city picks it up.
“It’s something that we have to master for so many reasons,” Robinson said. “The quality of life of ordinary residents is a fundamental expectation of being able to live in a sanitized environment. … It really impacts the pride you have in your community, in your city.
The proposal is due to be heard at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee.