Where will Kansas City's trash go? Locals don’t want a new landfill but we’re running out of space
Talk of a potential landfill in south Kansas City is making the city reevaluate its trash needs. While the city doesn't risk running out of space in the next few years, experts say it's not too soon to start exploring options.
On the afternoon of May 4, Missouri Sen. Rick Brattin, R- Harrisonville, launched into the fourth hour of his filibuster. Exhausted and frustrated, he pleaded with his colleagues to take action on House Bill 909, which would have prevented a landfill from being built less than a mile from a residential area in his district.
“This is deciding to side with someone who stands to make billions of dollars at the detriment of my constituency,” Brattin said during the session. “And it's quite clear that people in this building don't care and they're gonna make the person trying to fight for their constituents stand as long as it's possible.”
“And that's fine cause I'm gonna stand as long as I possibly can to do it.”
Two of Brattin’s colleagues eventually joined his efforts but, ultimately, the bill didn’t make it across the finish line.
The landfill in question has been the center of months of debate. It all started quietly —private developers began procuring land in south Kansas City. Then, they sent a team of lobbyists to Jefferson City and started exploring the idea of a permit. Word began to trickle back to the Kansas City area, sparking opposition from nearby cities and residents.
They worried a loud, smelly landfill would be too close to public schools and residential areas and drive down property values. And they were concerned about potential negative environmental impacts.
While Kansas City maintained they hadn’t heard of the landfill project, several cities, including Raymore, Lee’s Summit, Grandview, and Belton, began to speak up — all passed legislation opposing the development of a landfill in south Kansas City. Jackson and Cass Counties have passed similar resolutions.
The landfill proposal is likely dead, for now. The Kansas City Council eventually placed a moratorium on landfill permits in March until a review of the city’s trash needs is complete. Later that month, the city announced new strategies to move toward sustainability and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills later that month. And an ordinance outright banning new landfill permits is likely to pass this summer.
But the debate has raised an important question: does Kansas City need a new landfill? Experts say it’s not too early to be talking about it.
Where does Kansas City’s trash go?
Kansas City produces a lot of trash. According to Mid-America Regional Council Chief Resilience Officer Tom Jacobs, every Kansas City resident produces around seven and a half pounds of waste each day on average.
The United States Census Bureau estimates more than 500,000 people live in Kansas City, Missouri, as of 2021. That means the city produces around 3.8 million pounds, or 1,900 tons, of trash every day.
Kansas City Public Works Director Micheal Shaw said garbage trucks are constantly picking up trash.
“We have crews that go out every single day. Somewhere in the area of around 30 trash trucks on a daily basis, go out and pick up trash,” Shaw said. “Each truck does roughly 1,000 to 1,500 homes a day, and when the truck is loaded, they'll actually drive it to the landfill.”
Two landfills serve Kansas City, Missouri. Courtney Ridge Landfill in Sugar Creek and Pink Hill Acres in Blue Springs.
Pink Hill is a construction and demolition landfill that handles waste such as concrete, steel, rocks, bricks, and other building materials. Municipal waste, which is what garbage trucks collect at your homes and businesses, is handled by Courtney Ridge. Trucks can also go to a transfer station.
“We tend to go to the landfill most often,” Shaw said. “Some of our trash trucks south of the river might go to a transfer station.”
A transfer station consolidates waste and hauls it to other area landfills. The process is more environmentally friendly and efficient because trucks from transfer stations haul waste in trailers and make fewer trips to the landfill.
One of the transfer stations Kansas City uses, Mark II Transfer Station, is owned by Jennifer Monheiser — the potential south Kansas City landfill developer.
When should Kansas City build a landfill?
Courtney Ridge Landfill opened in 1996, and based on a 2022 survey by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR), it has less than two decades left.
It already expanded once in 2011, when it had around 11 years of remaining space. At the time, MoDNR estimated the expansion added 40 more years. But just 10 years later, it only has 19 years remaining, according to the 2022 survey.
The MoDNR estimates the lifespan of a landfill by taking the amount of remaining space in a given landfill, measured in cubic yards, and dividing it by how many cubic yards it has filled over a two year period.
If Courtney Ridge continues to operate at the same capacity — and Kansas City residents continue to produce the same amount of trash — landfill needs may need to be addressed early in the next decade, when it is estimated to have less than 10 years of remaining space.
“I know the general 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,” MoDNR Permit Unit Chief David Drilling said.
That timeline only takes into account the red tape involved in permitting a landfill. Changing public opinion, however, could take even longer.
“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,” Jacobs said. “We might wanna start community conversations sooner because these are complicated endeavors.”
It takes a minimum of five years alone to gain a permit for a new landfill, but Drilling said it usually takes seven to eight years. That’s not including the time it takes to engage with residents or nearby cities.
“It's definitely getting harder to site landfills,” Drilling said. “Many of the facilities that we have in the state were built 20 years ago. And as urban areas expand, they sprawl out a little bit, and they might get closer.”
Drilling says it can be convenient for a city to have a landfill nearby.
“I guess we're used to seeing them within a couple of miles of urban centers just because it affects your transportation costs if they (garbage trucks) have to go far.”
Courtney Ridge is about 19 miles from downtown Kansas City. The landfill averaged over 1,800 tons of trash received per day in 2021, according to a MoDNR report.
The only landfill in Missouri that received more waste in 2021 was Champ Landfill in the Village of Champ, Missouri, and it averaged over 2,400 tons of trash per day. It serves the St. Louis region and accepts around one-fifth of the waste in the entire state.
Are there options besides a landfill?
As Kansas Citians continue to produce trash, Jacobs said all options — including landfills — should be considered, but the goal should be to put the most sustainable waste program in place.
“I would say that it's always prudent to be looking towards the future and understanding what our needs might be and that we plan accordingly,” Jacobs said. “So I wouldn't want to put a date on 10 years from now, we need to start looking at it.”
Kansas City has already introduced several initiatives to divert trash from landfills, including bigger recycling carts and a pilot composting program for food waste.
The city could also consider looking for other existing landfills that have space, although it’s not a perfect solution. Diverting more trash through transfer stations to the Johnson County Landfill, the largest landfill in Kansas, would not be a good long term solution since it would leave northeast Kansas with less landfill space.
Johnson County Landfill had 20 years remaining in a 2020 survey by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, similar to Courtney Ridge.
So, even if Kansas City is able to reduce its trash output through sustainability programs, a new landfill may not be avoidable.
Status of the potential landfill in south Kansas City
The MoDNR has been flooded with emails — many anonymous — from residents who are upset about the potential landfill in south Kansas City. Drilling said he was surprised by the public’s awareness of the landfill before an application was submitted.
He said the MoDNR had an informal meeting with Jennifer and Aden Monheiser in March, where the Monheisers acknowledged that their plans for a landfill were made public before they applied for a permit.
“I don't know if we've seen it on this scale or this early in the process before because we heard about the possibility of this facility from the backlash before we even had contact from the people that were proposing it,” Drilling said.
At the time, the Monheisers were still in the process of acquiring the land needed and were pausing their efforts to see what happened with House Bill 909, according to Drilling.
House Bill 909 had overwhelming support in the House, where it easily passed with a 139-16 vote, but no vote was held in the Senate by the end of this year’s session on May 12. Still, the project will likely remain paused for at least a year.
On May 5, the Senate passed a capital improvement bill with an amendment to appropriate $100,000 for a one-year study on the environmental and economic effects of a landfill in the Jackson and Cass County area if the site is within a mile of another city.
No permits for a solid waste facility will be processed over the duration of the study. The bill is awaiting Governor Mike Parson’s signature.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has also proposed a city ordinance temporarily banning landfill requests in Kansas City until June 2024. The measure will be discussed in the next City Plan Commission meeting in early June.
“I want to do what I can to make sure that we have really what is a full regional conversation about the landfill,” Lucas said. “Not something about what area merits one versus another, but one that says, ‘All right, what's the need? How do we make sure that we're looking to protect neighborhoods no matter where they may be in Kansas City?’”