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One Man's Trash is the City of Kearney’s Treasure

Imagine 175 semi-trucks lined up and full of trash, or at least what most people consider trash. This is the amount of recycled material sorted and sold in the City of Kearney’s Sanitation Division.

The department created a model for recycling and sanitation that set the standard in the Midwest. They have been recognized for creating a business that is not only self-sustaining, but allows the citizens and businesses of Kearney to benefit as well.

“We fill six recycling dumpsters twice a week with paper scraps,” said Ben Nonhof, general manager of LIPS Printing in Kearney, Neb. “If they didn’t pick it up for recycling, we would just have to throw it away, and that would be a real waste.”

The City of Kearney has been collecting landfill waste and garbage for many years. The program is considered an Enterprise Fund, which means there are no tax dollars used to provide this service. Instead, there are fees charged for the service. The sanitation division functions like a business.

They take all measures to keep their costs down. When garbage is collected, the trash truck takes the garbage to the landfill and pays the same fee that anyone would pay when they go across the scale. Because of this fee, it is the goal of the sanitation division to reduce and recoup this expense. This is where recycling comes into play.


The City of Kearney prefers to pick up recycling rather than trash. It is estimated that $100,000 is saved each year through recycling. Currently, the service picks up recycling for free from over 5,500 homes and approximately 400 businesses. They even provide a free 94 gallon tote to collect the recycling. They add about 40-50 pickups per month. The only charge is a low fee for picking up cardboard from businesses.

The new 160-acre landfill was built approximately 20 years ago. A great deal went into this project, as the city had to meet Subtitle D Regulations. For more information on the landfill, the capacity, and the regulatory mandates, visit this article on our website for more details.

When the recycling is brought to the sanitation center located on East 39th Street in Kearney, it is manually sorted, then baled and sold to various buyers to become new products. Examples of this reuse include insulation made out of paper in Norfolk, Neb., and shingles made out of cardboard.

Sanitation Supervisor Steve Hart works with his team daily in all of the functions of the program. The sale of the recycled material is an important element of the process. The program brings a gross amount of $280,000 each year, which helps pay for the labor, equipment, and materials needed to do the recycling.

When each ton of trash is paid for at the landfill, $1.25 goes to the State of Nebraska. Fifty percent of this is made available for grant funding. The City of Kearney Sanitation has utilized these funds to help with many endeavors, including the construction of the new recycling center.

About the Author

Open for Business, Central Nebraska
The Open for Business Staff strives to create the most useful content possible for businesses. Whether it's tips and tools available for owners to work smarter, not harder, a feature story highlighting amazing things happening with a Central Nebraska business or a fun tip here and there, you will find something that helps your business thrive at 


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