At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, a mix of politics and policy resulted in protection of a Wichita non-profit’s market, but at the loss of convenience to Wichitans.
The issue is about 65 red clothing recycling bins operated by American Recyclers of Tulsa. These bins are in violation of Wichita city code, which states that bins like these — called curbside recycling — can’t be used for the recycling of clothing. They may be used for the recycling of other items.
The firm’s attorney, Bob Kaplan, had asked that the Wichita ordinance be revised to remove the prohibition on accepting clothing. Overland Park allows curbside collection of clothing under certain conditions, and after approval of a site plan.
In his testimony, Kaplan said that there are two reasons why there is opposition to the recycling bins. One is the proliferation of the bins. There are about 65 in Wichita. The second — and perhaps the primary reason — is that sometimes the bins become full and items are left outside the bins. Other people dump all sorts of trash and junk near the bins. But about one million pounds of clothing is picked up in the course of a year.
Kaplan said that every box is visited by the recycling company once a day, seven days a week. All items left at the bins are picked up, even if they are not items that should have been left there. Also, the company quickly responds to calls if a problem is reported.
The operator of a Wichita recycling center spoke to answer questions about his operation. The relevance of his testimony was not clear, but several members of the MAPC were interested in details of the operation of the recycling center, such as its hours of operation, and has it considered opening other locations in Wichita.
Representatives of Goodwill Industries spoke, and it was at this time that the crux of this issue became clear: Since the introduction of the red bins, Goodwill has seen a drop in the volume of clothing items coming to its stores. He said that the prohibition on curbside recycling of clothing protects the standard of living in our community by preventing blight. He welcomed American Recyclers to come to Wichita and open a business in a building, as does Goodwill.
MAPC member David Dennis asked questions regarding the number and locations of the Goodwill stores, the amount of investment, jobs, and wages. But the most important question Dennis asked was this: Where do the proceeds go — charity, or profit?
John Todd, citizen, said that the applicant’s proposal offer choice to the consumer. Competition is good for business, and the consumer wins where there is choice and competition.
Kaplan agreed, saying “competition is not a relevant factor” in the decision the MAPC has to make.
A question by MAPC board member Mitch Mitchell highlighted the point that it is not the boxes themselves that are illegal. It is that they are used for the recycling of clothing that makes them in violation of Wichita city code.
A motion was made and seconded that would have left the Wichita ordinance as it presently exists, meaning that the red bins would still be illegal. A substitute motion offered by Mitchell would have accepted Kaplan’s offer to work with city staff to include the provisions of the Overland Park ordinance so that there could be curbside recycling of clothing.
City legal staff interjected that what was being asked — directing staff to initiate an amendment to the zoning code — was beyond the authority of individual applicants, but the commission could, still, ask for this.
But no second to Mitchell’s was forthcoming, so the motion died. The original motion passed with only Mitchell voting against it.
After the meeting, Kaplan would not comment of the future plans of his client. The red bins are likely to be removed, he said, to comply with the decision.
The prohibition of curbside recycling of clothing is a curious anomaly in the city code. The type of bins in question are allowed for the recycling of other goods. I spoke with MAPC member Mitchell, and he said that no one in the city’s planning department can tell him why the prohibition on clothing was placed in the ordinance.
The most troubling aspect of the MAPC’s consideration of this item is the nature of the questions asked by several board members. These questions were obviously designed to show that a non-profit organization like Goodwill Industries is superior to a profit-making business. This presumption that non-profits are more virtuous and desirable because of the absence of the profit motive is common, but unfounded. It’s an example of the bias — considered to be the politically correct stance in some quarters — against profit and business.
This is especially troubling in the case of David Dennis, who, according to his biography, has worked for non-profit government institutions (primarily the military and Wichita public schools) for most of his career.
The ability to earn a profit means that an organization is providing goods or services that are valued by people, and if the organization is able to stay in business, it means it is doing this efficiently. Profit is evidence that capital is being used effectively.
Additionally, profit is the source of the ability to pay taxes. That allows institutions like the military and public schools to operate and institutions like Goodwill to exist without paying many of the taxes that businesses must pay.
Would the members of the MAPC have been willing to ask for a change of city code if the red bins were operated by a charity? We don’t know, but making the type of policy decisions that were made today is not within the scope of the MAPC’s responsibility. Mitchell said it is difficult to work on these types of issues without considering and making policy.
As it stands, Wichitans are about to be deprived of a convenient way to recycle clothing. The Wichita city council should consider revising city code to allow curbside recycling of clothing.