Riley County’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Department serves a total of 11 counties as part of the Big Lakes Region, and they processed 628,000 pounds of hazardous material in 2022. That’s the fourth highest amount in the state, right behind counties like Sedgwick, Johnson, and Shawnee.
If you’re not familiar, the Riley County Household Hazardous Waste facility is the permanent collection center for common hazardous materials that can be found in households. Some of the materials they accept include paints, lacquers, thinners, pesticides, batteries, medications, gas and solvents, motor oil, and fluorescent bulbs. There’s no charge for households to drop off waste, but commercial customers may have to pay a fee.
Five years ago, when Director Michael Boller and Assistant Director Justin Brenner began working with the department, they started doing everything possible to make use of the materials people brought in. Staff process and inspect materials, then try to repurpose anything that is still useful. Those valuable materials are then offered to the public. People can stop by the “drop or shop” area Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and pick up what they need at no cost. The shops are even heated with a system that runs on discarded motor oil.
“We get everything from cans of shaving cream to household cleaners and shellac,” says Michael Boller. “When soldiers PCS, they can’t transport hazardous materials, so we end up with everything they had under the sink or in the garage. It’s good stuff, and thankfully, there are plenty of people who can use it.”
The free paint has been the biggest hit, and customers even call in with requests.
“In the past, all the paint was mixed into one vat, and the colors were very unpredictable. If there was a lot of red, for instance, sometimes the free paint looked more like Pepto Bismol – and not many people want Pepto walls,” said Justin Brenner.
Justin had the great idea to focus on neutral colors, instead. Now, they can barely keep the five-gallon buckets of free paint on the shelves.
“We try to always have a light color, plus beige and grey on hand, but the buckets go pretty quickly,” said Brenner. “People are able to save a lot of money and they’re always really grateful for the help.”
Helping people is what Justin and Michael enjoy most about their jobs. They rely on the public to keep hazardous materials out of the landfills and streams, so maintaining good relationships with the people they serve is the main ingredient for success. Staff are working to meet new people and build relationships all the time.
Both Justin and Michael have a history of public service. Michael is a former police officer and Justin currently serves as a Battalion Chief for Riley County Fire District #1. Their department has a total of six employees who are all committed to serving the community: Ryan Ascher, Lori Hanson, and Vaughn Powell, and John Reves round out the crew and perform tasks from heavy equipment operation to hazardous waste disposal and customer service.
“We all get along great out here,” said Boller. “Plus, we get to help people out. Sometimes our work can make a big difference for someone and it’s great that we get to offer our service.”
Find more information about the Household Hazardous Waste facility including a complete list of materials they accept at www.rileycountyks.gov/hhw. They’re located at 6425 Tuttle Creek Blvd and open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
HHW staff (left to right): Justin Brenner, John Reves, Michael Boller, Vaughn Powell, Lori Hanson, and Ryan Ascher.