KCMO’s illegal dumping problem has persisted for decades

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City officials are awaiting the results of an audit that began last September to determine how well they are handling the illegal dumping.

The auditor’s office said the report is expected to be released by the end of April.

The last time such an audit took place was in 1996. The report noted that illegal dumping was a “major city-wide problem”.

It’s always like that.

“It’s a never-ending process,” said Alan Ashurst, the city’s illegal dumps investigator.

Ashurst has between 17 and 25 cameras hooked up to the landfills to catch people in the act.

“The overwhelming majority of illegal dumping happens right in the middle of these neighborhoods in the middle of the night,” Ashurst said.

Since last May, the city has issued around 200 summonses in an attempt to hold these people to account.

One site is at the top of Ashurst’s list – Northeast Oak Ridge Drive in Northland.

The street leads to a dead end in a wooded area backing onto a neighborhood. Tires line the street. Garbage bags and sacks are spilled everywhere. Even Google Maps reflects garbage.


This illegal dump site is on NE Oak Ridge Drive in the north.
Illegal dumping


Garbage bags line this illegal dump.

Back when the city did its audit in the 1990s, it found that most of the illegal landfills were commercial waste. Now it’s different. These are people who throw away their garbage and personal belongings.

Ashurst said it came down to simple disrespect.

“Because some of these people don’t have the ability to follow these ground rules, they have no respect for their neighborhood, we need to have a ministry to spend taxpayers money paying people like me to people don’t throw their trash on the street,” Ashurst said.

Illegal waste dump


Most of the illegal dumping at KCMO consists of personal trash.

By 1996, the city was spending more than $400,000 a year cleaning up illegal dumps, according to then-city auditor Mark Funkhouser.

Today, the city spends about $2 million a year on cleanup and has many more resources. Of course, the pandemic has affected this function of the city like everything else.

“Trash cleanup, trash cleanup has also gone down because of the pandemic,” said city spokeswoman Maggie Green. “The same resources that were used to clean up along our highways, for example, weren’t as readily available during the pandemic.”

The city says it will have more resources in the coming year, such as more bulky item pickups and neighborhood cleanup days. The city will allocate $600,000 starting in May to fund partnerships that will hire people to pick up trash along streets and highways.

Another difficult part of this evolving problem is deciphering whether objects have been thrown away or are part of a camp where people live.

“Illegal dumping, as we know it, has gotten better. Trash has gotten worse, if that makes sense,” Ashurst said.

Residents can call (816) 513-DUMP (3867) to report an illegal dump. The city says it can usually fix the problem within 24 to 36 hours. If it’s a bigger problem, like the site northeast of Oak Ridge, it will take more time and more trucks to haul the garbage.

The city listed its existing cleanup efforts:

  • The city hosts approximately 11 city-sponsored cleanups from Kansas City North to South Kansas City from April through November each year. Two of these events include the Hard to Recycle events offered each spring and fall.
  • Neighborhood Dumpster Program: Approximately 400 dumpsters are used by over 200 neighborhood groups from May to October each year.
  • Blue Bag Program: Neighborhood groups, organizations or residents can pick up blue bags at any KCMO CAN center and organize their own neighborhood cleanup throughout the year; and KCMO teams will pick up the blue bags from the street once the cleanup is complete.
  • KC Water and KC Parks hold seasonal cleanups along waterways and parks.
  • Crews regularly monitor dump sites or small cleanups throughout the year.
  • Partnerships with MoDOT, Downtown Council and Crime Commission to increase litter cleanup efforts along downtown freeways.

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