After its recycling contract with Waste Connections came up on the agenda the previous week, the Harvey County Commission dove a little deeper into the topic at its meeting on Tuesday — hearing about some pressing concerns from its partner company.

While Harvey County is under contract with Waste Connections for recycling services through 2022, division vice president Eric Bergin came before the commission on Tuesday to speak to a growing issue in the industry — with a number of municipalities dropping recycling requirements due to increasing tonnage rates.

Those rates have been going up as the market for recycled materials peters off. While Bergin stated he does believe the market will get better, he does not see it returning to previous highs. The need for cardboard and paper is at an all-time low. In the past, he noted Waste Connections was making $35 to $55 a ton, but now the company is sometimes having to pay to offload recycling materials.

On top of that, recycling contamination has also contributed to more work and increasing rates. Bergin projected about 20 percent to 30 percent of the recycling collected in Harvey County is contaminated, including nonrecyclable materials. The ideal rate for Waste Connections is less than 10 percent contamination.

"My big fear is that the contamination has gotten to a point now where it's really affecting our system in Hutch and how we go about processing the materials that we get," Bergin said. "I don't see this problem going away anytime soon."

The county is under contract until May 2022, but Bergin brought forward a proposal that would increase reimbursement rates up to $110 per ton of recycled material transported from the Harvey County Solid Waste center. He also called for a dumpster to be placed in the recycling center where staff can load contamination and then take it to the transfer station. Bergin and Waste Connections were also calling for the county to, at the very least, enforce Resolution 2010-8 that stipulates it is the responsibility of individual haulers to sort out and remove any contamination brought in with their recycling.

Current rates agreed upon between Harvey County and Waste Connections are for recycling to be transferred at a rate of $13 per ton (with payments made on a monthly basis).

"I want to be a good steward of the land, but if we go to $110 a ton ... and we can transfer it to the landfill at $35 a ton, to me that's a no-brainer," commissioner Randy Hague said. "If it's going to cost the consumer that much more money to recycle versus taking it to the landfill, I can't support that."

As an alternative, Hague put forward the idea of not making recycling mandatory in Harvey County, though county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber noted a countywide resolution already in place has led contracted haulers to invest in capital to haul in recycling. He also questioned how feasible it would be leaving that responsibility up to individual citizens, as those who chose to take their recycling out would still have to sort out the contamination, as well.

More responsibility, it was agreed, has to be placed on haulers to identify contamination among recyclable loads and eliminate that — whether sorting it out and transferring it on site or using some other method (e.g. installation of overhead cameras). It was noted the city of Newton has cracked down on that recently, being more vigilant about contamination and even issuing citations to residents in such instances.

Hesston city administrator Gary Emry noted a discussion would need to be had with service providers for the city to figure out how some of those issues could be alleviated, though he had similar concerns as Hague regarding the proposed rate increase.

"If the price escalates up to the numbers that we're hearing, that really brings the discussion back to 'will the citizens pay for something like that?' If it gets up to that range," Emry said, "it's just not worth it; there's no value in it."

Though no action was taken regarding costs — with rate increases potentially leading to an additional $200,000 financial hit for the county annually — the commission did give the consensus for Waste Connections to address contamination issues, approving a rolloff dumpster to be placed at the recycling center on a trial basis (to allow for nonrecyclable materials to be sorted out).

In other business, the county commission:

Noted the cancellation of the public/private partners meeting scheduled for July 12.
Signed off on the appointments of Jennifer Speer and Constance Gehring to the Food and Farm Council.
Received pledge letters from the sheriff's office and Friends of the ERT for the purchase of a Bearcat emergency rescue vehicle, which is set to be delivered this week.
Came to a consensus to move forward with the publication of a notice of hearing for amendments to county parks regulations, including the addition of seven and 14-day passes for primitive camping.
Presented a budget update, noting preliminary work is shaping up to bring about a decrease in the total mill levy of 0.1 mills for Fiscal Year 2020.
Approved a request from the Harvey County Fair Association to replace the 4-H building roof, with services to be performed by Flory Roofing at a cost of $14,250.
Received a presentation on the county's 2018 financial audit.
Learned that concrete work on the cabins at Camp Hawk will start next week.
Heard about ongoing preventative efforts from Health Department Director Lynnette Redington, who pointed out that the Hesston City Council is currently discussing a tobacco-free parks policy and the county (along with Barton and Reno counties) is also seeking out a $750,000 grant for opioid prevention.