GIRARD — James Triplett, chairman of Southeast Kansas Recycling’s board of directors, came before the Crawford County Commission at its meeting Friday to ask for help to keep his organization afloat amid changes in international trade.
“China, as a result of its sponsoring of the Olympics and the bad press it got for its environment, has really instituted an effort to improve the environmental quality over there,” Triplett said, “and some of that was to eliminate the way they were handling some of the salvaged materials that we were shipping over.”
Triplett said he has been working with various parties including the Kansas Polymer Research Center at Pittsburg State University to look for ways to repurpose or remanufacture some recyclable materials locally.
“It makes no sense anyway to ship that stuff halfway around the world when it has such a low value, you know, that’s not sustainable,” Triplett said. “We’re just wasting a lot of fossil fuels moving stuff that’s not worth much.”
So far, however, SEK Recycling has not found a workable solution, and Triplett asked the commission if the county could provide SEK Recycling with $7,000 per month to help it make ends meet “until we have a chance to work through this.”
Commissioner Tom Moody asked County Counselor Jim Emerson if assistance to SEK Recycling could be negotiated as part of the county’s upcoming landfill contract renewal in July, which Emerson said was a possibility. Moody also asked Triplett how urgent SEK Recycling’s situation was.
“It depends on the public response, the immediate public response,” Triplett said. “I know that my treasurer is hanging onto some bills that we haven’t paid to make sure that we have enough money for payroll. That’s my top priority. We’ve got to pay the people that are working.”
Commissioner Jeremy Johnson said that Triplett’s request “does seem to coincide a little bit with the contract with the landfill,” and “there’s a possibility there to examine what our options are” but that the appeal for public funding struck him as “an ongoing conversation” and that the commission was “not going to have a silver bullet solution.”
Triplett said SEK Recycling has already received some donations and he’s sure the organization will get more.
“If I end up to the point I can’t make payroll, I’ll send a media appeal,” he said.
But individual private donations are “not going to deal with the issue long term,” Triplett acknowledged. “Long term, we need a different model.”
Commissioner Johnson brought the discussion back to Triplett’s earlier comments on international changes to the recycling industry.
“Well and part of that too, you kind of talked about how the remanufacturing infrastructure domestically is not there, and that kind of presents us with an economic development opening, right?” he said. “That if we could get processors of the materials, or if we could work something out with the Polymer Research Center to develop those kinds of businesses who can be here and make use of those materials,” that could be “a boon for everybody.”
Commissioner Moody told Triplett the commissioners would discuss the matter further, and that they would probably need to set up a work session with SEK Recycling, which Triplett said he and his staff would be happy to participate in.
“I’m sure we’re all interested in trying to figure this problem out, because the recycling center is a great thing for our community and our environment,” Moody said, “but it’s going to take some thought.”