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As Residents' Complaints Pile Up, Kansas City Is Rethinking Trash Collection

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City, Missouri, Solid Waste Division Director Michael Shaw says he understands why private contractors were having trouble picking up trash in parts of Kansas City, "(but) we pay for a service, we expect the results."

After years of complaints from customers, rising costs and declining service from contractors, the Kansas City Council voted to ditch the contractors and have city crews do weekly trash pick-ups throughout the city.

City council initially met the plan with skepticism, questioning how much money it would save the city, but they eventually passed the measure unanimously.

Michael Shaw, the city's Solid Waste Division director says he, too, is confident in the cost-savings estimates.

"We overestimated on everything," Shaw says, which means the city could stand to save more than expected.

"For example, when we first went into this, looking at the equipment, we projected those costs of the equipment to be around $9 million," he says. Since then, the city has secured lower bids, bringing cost estimates under $7 million.

The city plans to take over trash collections in May of 2020. Shaw says his department has already begun preparing for the change and is in a good position to make the transition as easy as possible.

"We currently do a third of the city, so we already have experience, knowledge, built-in systems, so it's not such a stretch, if you will, for us to add more people to do continue to do what we already do," he says.

As it is, private hauling companies service areas north of the Missouri River and south of 63rd Street, and municipal crews handle trash collection in the rest of the city. The city first started doing trash pick-up in the 1970s, Shaw says, "it's kind of morphed into what is now really called a managed competition system."

"We've enjoyed that relationship for many years, where the city provided services in parts of the city and the contractor was able to get work," he says, but as trash-hauling companies have consolidated, their rates have increased.

"There's very large companies that have control of very large sections, and (they) can really charge what they want to because you're not going to have many options."

Through declining levels of service and increasing cost, Shaw says the city worked for years to iron things out with private contractors before moving forward with the "nuclear option."

As problems got progressively worse, a change needed to happen.

"We're coming into the summer months, we just can't have trash sitting for multiple days out of these curbs," he says. "It's just not acceptable."

Michael Shaw spoke with Steve Kraske on a recent episode of KCUR's Up to Date. Listen to their entire conversation here.

Luke X. Martin is associate producer of KCUR's Up To Date. Contact him at or on Twitter, @lukexmartin.

Luke X. Martin is associate producer of KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact him at or on Twitter, @lukexmartin.