County change could shake up city recycling

In a few months, city recyclable loads will need to be clean when at the transfer station, or the city will bear the consequences.

“After Jan. 1, we send a recycling truck that goes by your house and picks up your load and all of your neighbors’. If that load gets down to the recycling facility and it rejects that load, that truck will go and dump at the transfer station instead,” City Engineer Suzanne Loomis explained. “We’re not trying to trick anybody, that’s just the rules we’re given.”

On Tuesday, the county amended its contract with service provider Waste Connections. The amendment requires all loads to have less than 10 percent contamination, a purity level the company currently asserts most cities are not meeting.

A truck with a rejected load will be sent to dump its recycling as trash for a month before it’s allowed to attempt to transfer recycling. A second violation would lead to another month ban and a $350 fine.
Loomis said it would be likely that current recycling trucks would be rejected often with the change, knowing residents’ recycling habits.

This change comes on the heals of Waste Connections pushing for changes in its contract and threatening price increases for recycling. The company holds that there’s no longer a market for recyclables as China, the main importer of U.S. recycling, which is also requiring purer products before accepting the imports.

As a result, the county allowed for the amendment in its contract with Waste Connections and repealed its rule requiring mandatory recycling. That repeal opens the option for cities to repeal their mandatory recycling ordinances. Currently, Newton still requires residents to recycle. It remains unknown if that will continue to be the case, as the city is currently studying options to change its recycle program.

“This is a crystal ball thing, and we don’t have a crystal ball,” Loomis said.

Option one would be to get rid of recycling services for the city. That would result in an increase in costs, as the city currently pays $18 a ton for recycling and $33 a ton for refuse, and most of the city’s recyclables would become refuse.
Option two would provide voluntary recycling though a fee structure, which remains up in the air.
City Manager Bob Myers said he envisioned the program allowing cheaper rates for those who recycle, as they were helping lower overall costs.

“What I’d rather see is rates go up for everyone or those choosing not to recycle,” he said. “The more we have that can do recycling correctly, it’s for the benefit of everybody on our rates. I can’t see charging those people more for doing the right thing.”

The third option would be to keep current recycling practices and push and police residents to put less trash in recycling bins.
“If we were to continue with mandatory recycling as we have now, we’ll have to add staff,” Myers said, noting that employees would have to get out and inspect recycling to make sure it’s clean.

“What seems like the most logical way forward for you,” Commissioner Leroy Koehn asked Loomis.

“I don’t know if we know the answer to that,” she said. “I know we’re going to bring you something that would be an option to keep recycling.”

Myers weighed in.

“I think we do have a lot of people who want to recycle,” he said. “If we do this on a voluntary basis, it’s with an understanding they get a refresher on the rules. I’d be inclined to say this is what we want people to do, and because it will hold our costs down, I can’t see charging the people trying to be examples.”

Loomis said the city would be providing options to the commission, and at least one option would include recycling.
She said she didn’t believe enough information would be available for the commission to make a decision before the contract change Jan. 1

She said she thought a decision on the issue might come up at a February meeting. That means mandatory recycling will likely be in place in Newton when the new purity standards go into effect.