Conference focuses on continuing recycling and composting efforts, despite economy

LINDSBORG- Since Tuesday, Lindsborg’s Bethany College  has played host to the 15th annual Kansas Works Conference. The three-day event, which will come to a close at noon today, focused on recycling, composting and proper disposal of hazardous household  waste.
Community leaders, state officials and those in the composting and recycling industry gathered to listen to speakers, industry leaders and to gain a better understanding of today’s green initiatives and the obstacles hitting the recycling and composting industries.
The conference, which is funded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Solid Waste, is one of the most successful and well-attended recycling and composting conferences in the Midwest.
DeAnn Presley, a Kansas State Extension Service specialist in environment and soil science from Manhattan, said she attended this year’s conference to spread the word about composting and the many benefits that can be realized through the reuse of waste.
“There is not a lot of food composting going on right now and we are trying to get that percentage up,” said Presley. “It's very high in water and tends to be high in nitrogen, so we are hoping to help some people to understand and get more food composting going on.”
Beginning and advanced composting seminars were offered throughout the day Tuesday and Wednesday in addition to session on green initiatives, solid waste management and planning and information on handling hazardous household waste.
The sessions were lead by award-winning presenters such as Stan Slaughter and Larry Wilhelm, who used a unique and attention-grabbing cowboy theme to relay to those in attendance the importance of composting.
“The best presenters I've seen at any of these recycling conferences are here in Kansas,” said Slaughter. “People need to realize that a very active and beneficial solid waste agency is doing it's work in Kansas and has been for 15 years.”
The McPherson County Solid Waste Utility transfer station was also highlighted. On Wednesday, conferece goers toured the facility to learn more about the county’s operations and recycling efforts.
Wednesday morning, roundtable discussions were held on household hazardous waste, composting and recycling markets.
Bill Bider, director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Waste Management, said despite hard times for many communities and recycling companies, conference attendance was in line with previous years.

Speakers share company’s green initiatives, moves

LINDSBORG- On Wednesday morning, Bethany College’s Burnett Center auditorium became a Who’s Who of recycling and sustainability industry personnel, all with one topic on their mind — how to find make recycling a profit-generating process. 
Bill Bider, director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Waste Management, led the discussion by looking at the state’s current waste management practices. 
“This general session today is focused on the idea of sustainability,” said Bider. “I hear stories on a weekly basis of programs who are unable to sustain themselves because of one major change that's occurred.”
The prices Kansas recycling programs are receiving for recyclable commodities has dropped tremendously. Bider said recycling companies who were depending revenue to run their programs are now struggling to make ends meet. Bider said these programs are currently facing declining revenue, magnified by the current depressed economy.
“I think everyone is facing some issues because everyone who recycles is getting less money and has less revenue than they had in the past,” said Bider. “It doesn’t mean that they are going to close their doors however. We are going to figure out a way to get over this hump, who is going to want to let their recycling program close up? Granted, there will be some casualties, I don’t' think it will happen across the board in Kansas.”
The discussion wasn’t all doom and gloom however, speakers Angie Stoner, senior manager of public affairs and government relations for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., told of some of the many company-wide green initiatives taking place at Wal-Mart. Some of those goals and initiatives included reducing green house gas emissions at existing facilities by 20 percent by 2012 and doubling the efficiency of its truck fleet by 2015 through the use of bio-diesel and other mile-increasing measures.
Rob Hallam, vice president of communications and social responsibility for the Payless/ Creative Brands, showed the companies approach to go green through a different strategy. Hallam said Payless / Creative Brands has and continues to test different green initiatives and build upon those that prove successful. Through research and development, the company has begun to focus on using eco-friendly products in its shoes and building-wide recycling. Hallam said the company also promotes sustainability in its employees habits by offering premium parking spaces to people who car pool to work. Hallam also noted that Payless is also working to find ways to market its shoes without the cardboard box, which Hallam said is a big part of the shoe marketing industry.
Jimmy Sjoblom, a distinguished guest professor for Bethany College from Sweden, spoke as well, emphasizing the need to continue forward and not allowing the industry and individual efforts to stagnate. His presentation incorporated humor, photographs and maps showing the plausible destruction caused from water overflow due to the melting of the arctic glaciers by green house gasses.
“I think local governments are going to step up to this and not let these programs fold,” said Bider. “I think most will say ‘No, we can't let that happen.’ They have to think of their own program from a sustainability point of view and decide.”
Even the decision to come down to the conference was one that Bider was worried most programs wouldn’t be able to make. He said two months ago, the state was worried no one would be able to afford the gas to come out, but he said the crowd that attended was right where it has been in previous years.