empty cans after recycling paint at Johnson county kansas environmental facility

How to Safely Dispose of Paint: Johnson County Kansas does it right

Solvents, and pigments and paint, oh my! Ten years worth of old paints, stains, pesticides and other unspeakables had been gathering rust and dust in my basement and the time had come to deal with them. In my particular suburbia of Johnson County, Kansas, the question of what to do with my personal hazmat generates an increasingly rare answer: “We can help you with that!”

With an appointment residents can drop off a long list of bad stuff at a facility located in the the county’s oldest wastewater treatment plant. (Businesses and other non-residents must apply for the program.) My appointment was this past weekend, so I loaded up an embarrassing amount of half-full containers of nasty what-not and headed out!

entrance gate Johnson County kansas environmental hazmat disposal facility

Pulling up to the gate: Here’s where we confirm out reservations with the Hazmat Hostess. Right away I can feel smug knowing I don’t have near as much as THAT guy!

Inside the wastewater treatment plant Johnson County kansas

Once inside, we wind our way up the hilly site and follow the signs. Knowing a tiny bit about gravity and wastewater treatment, we are not surprised to see various forms of treated water moving in the opposite direction, and encountering more distinctive smells the higher we go!

Entrance lane to Johnson County kansas environmental hazmat drop off

Pull right up, people! Here in suburbia, we cherish our drive-in conveniences; the only way this could be better is a window to order up a fresh handcrafted artisan locally-grown veggie wrap at the same time!

unloading at the johnson county hazmat disposal facility

Unloading my junk in an obviously recycled box:  Guess what Santa has brought you!

intake and sorting at Johnson County kansas environmental

The first-line staff sorts in seconds what took me a decade to accumulate.

Recyle store at Johnson County kansas environmental disposal facility

And then, the surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise…the majority of this stuff is made available for reuse through the Redistribution Program. And it’s free for the taking! The “Reuse Store” is chock-full of still-good items and you can take what you need. Good to know! This resource may enable me to significantly cut the quantity of  stuff I haul on my 2022 hazmat run.

inside the reuse store johnson county environmental facility hazmat disposal

After a reminder that shoppers shouldn’t try to start their fireplaces with the paint thinner, we move to the low-tech, high-logic check-out. Just note what you’ve taken on the board and be on your way. Sweet and simple.

remixing recycled paint johnson county kansas environmental hazmat

The Reuse Store, though, represents just a fraction of the reuse opportunity. Usable paints are sorted according to shade and remixed together in a large hopper. Then, the remix is repackaged into 5-gallon containers that are available (free!) to charitable organizations. All that paint you see on the right? That was the output on this single Saturday morning…and at that point, it was only 10:30 am! (If your organization could use some great free paint, regardless of your county, contact Brandon Hearn at the Johnson County Environmental Department, 913-715-6900.)

empty cans after recycling paint at Johnson county kansas environmental facility

The solution to color pollution is dilution! Just think, somewhere there’s a room in that shade of green. Now its screaming intensity has faded away, mixed into nothingness in a big hopper of bland beige.

entry lane at johnson county kansas hazmat disposal and recycling

And as I’m pulling out, the weekend rush and crush is pulling in.  I think it’s going to be a busy day here.

tire and propane tanks for disposal at johnson county kansas facility

Getting tired and tanked: on the way out, I notice other items–propane tanks and old tires–that have found their way here for proper last rites.

MARC air quality free car emissions testing

Just as I’m heading out for home, I see something that always commands my full attention: A sign with the work FREE! And it’s another drive-in! With no waiting! Can’t say no to that!

Right around the corner from the paint drop-off the Mid-America Regional Council’s Air Quality Program was offering free emission testing. Good thing, since while we were busy blaming coal 50% of Kansas City’s ozone pollution was being generated from individuals’ activities, especially personal vehicles. And, we cheapos already know that inefficiently-operating autos also cost more money to run and maintain.

marc air quality auto emissions testing

Since the ThirstyInSuburbia company car is 6 years old with 85,000 miles of wear, I am braced for the expected bad news. I get both good and bad news. The good: Thirstymobile passed emissions testing on all of the key measures, and the gas cap seal is tight. The bad: the guys alerted me to a cracking serpentine belt, nearly-shot brake pads and low tire pressure. So, my car won’t be overly polluting the air as I’m waiting to pull into the mechanic’s bay. As a bonus, the MARC guys sent me off with a fistful of helpful info on air quality and ozone levels.

Postscript: Hey! It must be the money!

All free and no fees? Of course not. It costs money fund this, and you may be grumbling that your budget-pressured city or county offers no such services at all. Much less the drive-in version.

Although it shouldn’t be, it’s a luxury. Johnson County Kansas is among the top 100 richest counties in the US, and it is easier to be green when you have a lot of greenbacks! “Your tax dollars at work” is usually uttered as a sarcastic, defeatist reaction to public funds ill-spent. In this case, I’ve observed our tax dollars being “wasted” and for once it was a great thing! Good job, JoCo.


3 replies
  1. @h2oMatters
    @h2oMatters says:

    As the saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is much more affordable than the high cost of treating water polluted from gunk and stuff pored down a drain.” Okay, not quite as catchy as “a pound of cure”, but it is true. Cool and worthy government program. I wonder how many other hidden gems like this are in place around the country?

  2. Anthony Kozuh
    Anthony Kozuh says:

    Very well done Gayle.
    I’ve always believed a picture speaks louder than a thousand words and the way you published this substantiates this. Enjoyable to read BUT very informative! We need more individuals such as yourself educating this generation what’s in store for the next. Very good article to read for a bit. Thank you Gayle. Keep up you struggle. The next generation will thank you

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