By: Travis Freeman
The fun part of working towards a zero waste lifestyle is that everyone approaches it differently. I threw away 60 pounds of trash in 2015. Or 59.4 pounds, to be exact. Now that definitely wouldn't have fit into a jar, and I'm not quite on board with making my own deodorant or toothpaste just yet. But I still feel pretty good about throwing away less than ¼ pound of trash per day, or 98% less than the 2,500 pounds that is landfilled per person here in Kansas City every year. Here are some tips that helped me get started.
Kansas City has a hidden gem called Urbavore that accepts residential food scraps and turns them into compost (see map). It's as simple as dropping items off at a recycling center. They accept raw food, cooked food, meat, dairy, grass clippings, and leaves (but no brush, "compostable" plastics, or pizza boxes), and their facility is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9am-6pm.
For me, composting was the game changer. Food (water) is heavy, so removing it from the trash stream resulted in trash bags weighing between 2-4 pounds on average. Even better, I take the trash out every two or three weeks now since it no longer stinks.
So yes, in some ways, recycling is bullshit. It was originally promoted by manufacturers that wanted to "externalize" bottling costs, or push them onto local municipalities and individuals. These same manufacturers continue to pump out products that are not designed for reclamation and then shame us for their litter.
Yet recycling is still my best option until I get better at cooking with bulk items (check out Zero Waste Nerd for specific bulk locations in Kansas City). Despite the bad actors mentioned earlier, recycling significantly reduces the amount of raw materials that we mine, harvest, and extract for new products. It's also been shown that recycling most materials - particularly cardboard, paper, and aluminum - save significant amounts of energy versus using raw materials.
The Deramus Recycling Center at 4707 Deramus Avenue (see map) is my favorite recycling center in the city. The site is monitored and protected from the weather unlike the bins scattered around downtown.
Stepping off the landfill treadmill is the easiest of the three steps listed, because it means keeping the products you have until they break or expire. It can be tempting to purge your home of all things disposable, and then restock it with "zero-waste" products made in countries with few employee protections and environmental regulations. But producing these goods just trashes someone else's country.
So I suggest waiting for the cheap goods to break or wear out (it's what they do best!), and then gradually replacing them with the best item that you can afford when the need arises. In addition to Roundhouse Exchange, there are several independent retailers in Kansas City that sell well-made items from transparent manufacturers: Mash Handmade, Urban Provisions, Hand & Land, STUFF, and Pryde's Kitchen to name a few.
It takes me about an hour every week to make the trip to Urbavore and the Deramus Recycling Center. It's not ideal to drive 20+ miles to make this work, but it's the best option out there right now for apartment dwellers in Kansas City. If you have any specific tips or suggestions, please share!
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.