Ever wondered where your trash goes after it gets picked up in Kansas City? More than likely, it goes to the Deffenbaugh Landfill in Johnson County. Deffenbaugh was created in 1967 and has grown to be one of the largest active landfills in the Midwest. Located about 20 miles west of downtown Kansas City, it is easy to spot as you cross the Kansas River while traveling southbound on I-435.
Every day, 10 million pounds of our waste is dumped, compacted and covered here with soil. According to a 2008 report prepared for Kansas City, over 1/3 of this waste is paper (cardboard, magazines, office paper, and newspaper) by weight. The remainder is made up of organic waste (38.5%), plastic (15%), metal (5%), and glass (6.5%). Of the organic waste, nearly half of it is discarded food (~19% of total residential waste by weight).
The Deffenbaugh Landfill overlooks the Mid-America West Sports Complex, a popular site for youth sports games.
The city of Shawnee recently agreed to an extension with Deffenbaugh Industries through 2043. This means that the mountain will continue to rumble and grow for the next 30 years or so. After that, landfills are traditionally capped with soil, monitored for leaks for 30-40 years, and then returned to the city. I haven't been able to find a plan for Deffenbaugh specifically, but it is common for landfills to be turned into a park after they have been capped.
It's important to note that Deffenbaugh Industries - or any other landfill operator - is handling a problem that we've created together. That is namely, waste. And while some companies handle landfill smells better than others, no landfill is ever going to smell great as long as we mix food waste with traditional waste.
The Mill Creek Streamway Park in the shadow of the Deffenbaugh Landfill.
On that note, if you want to see the landfill in person, I suggest parking at the Mill Creek Streamway Park. The trail there has a great view of the trucks climbing the berm on their way to the open cell (the active part of the landfill). Deffenbaugh does not encourage tours to the public, but they do have a video that gives you a peek behind the berm:
Finally, here is a video of the Deffenbaugh residence, the home of the late founder of Deffenbaugh Industries. The estate sits next door to the landfill and is currently for sale:
Kansas City does not offer curbside recycling to residential buildings with six units or more, which makes recycling difficult for many residents. But the Deramus Recycling Center is a tidy, convenient option for those living downtown with a car and the willingness to make the short trip.