PITTSBURG, Kan. —
While groups such as Keep America Beautiful and the Environmental Protection Agency have entire websites touting the benefits of recycling, Southeast Kansas residents may lose their only recycling center if permanent funding isn’t found soon.
“We’re in dire straits,” said Jim Triplett, president of the board of the Southeast Kansas Recycling Center in Pittsburg.
In addition to accepting household materials from residents and running commercial routes to businesses and schools, the center takes in cardboard and office paper from sheltered workshops in several Southeast Kansas towns. It also has two trailers weekly that serve as collection points in Cherokee County.
Faced with falling commodity prices, competition for clothing — a prime moneymaker — outstanding building loans and no guaranteed funding stream, the center lost nearly $69,000 in 2013.
The board faced another hill as the calendar turned to 2014: Monthly utilities, insurance and a Jan. 7 and Jan. 21 payroll for five full-time and two part-time staff members were coming due, and the center had $500 in the bank.
Triplett, who also is a professor of biology at Pittsburg State University and serves on the governor’s Solid Waste Grants Advisory Committee, requested help from the Crawford County Commission in the form of a $10,000 payment.
It’s not the first time. The agreement, which stipulates that the county will pay the center $5,000 per month starting Jan. 15 and each month thereafter until December 2017, closely replicates one between the county and the center in early 2010.
The 2010 agreement, however, lasted just two months, which Triplett said “got us through the squeaky part.”
“We recovered to the point that continued support was unnecessary,” he said.
Prices for recycled materials shot up, the clothes operation grew and the center more than recovered, but Triplett doesn’t think temporary financing will do it this time.
“We may be facing a new normal,” he said.
The center’s biggest moneymaker — clothing — no longer comes in at the rate it used to after a partnership with the local Salvation Army dissolved and Planet Aid, a not-for-profit that focuses on recycling shoes and clothing, set up its own yellow receptacles throughout Pittsburg.
Service Recycling of Joplin, Mo., tapped into the center’s cardboard market — another moneymaker — by offering businesses a monthly contract rate for collection from parking lot trash bins.
More than 425 cars come through the center’s tunnel each week. Twenty percent of those are regular weekly repeat visitors. They pay no fee, but they may leave donations if they’re so inclined, and 120 people pay voluntary memberships to support the center ranging from $20 for students to $50 for families. But Triplett said that out of a community of nearly 20,000 people, that’s not enough of a percentage to carry the load.
According to its 2013 financial statement, the center paid $191,546 to process materials it took in, and it had $118,459 in expenses that included payroll, for a total of $310,005 in expenses. It took in $241,125, leaving a deficit of $68,880.
The center trimmed its staff, from 12 to six full-time employees, and let its operations director go in April. The center also throttled the hours of its tunnel — the drive-through area in which residents, with the help of employees and volunteers, can unload plastic, paper, glass, cardboard and aluminum — from five days a week to three days.