Mandatory recycling in Harvey County has come to an end — though recycling itself will continue. 

"Recycling is not going away in Harvey County, you can still take recycling to our facility," said county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber. 

There will be self-serve recycling at the transfer station, and cities will be making their own policy decisions as to whether to continue recycling.

On Tuesday the commission considered Resolution 2019-26, a resolution removing recyclable materials from the list of items prohibited from entering the transfer station commingled with other trash. Commissioner Ron Krehbiel put forward a motion to accept the new resolution, seconded by commissioner Randy Hague. The motion passed unanimously.

"I think what is really killing this program are the small amount of people that don't care about recycling," said Commissioner Randy Hague. "They really don't care what they put in there."

The county receives about 150 tons of recycling a month. About 82% of rural addresses do not participate in the recycling program, even under mandatory recycling rules.

According to county staff, cities have been informed. North Newton and Hesston are planning to continue, while Newton will be discussing the issue this winter.

Harvey County created mandatory recycling by an ordinance passed in 2006. Initially, recyclable materials only included corrugated cardboard, newspapers, aluminum cans, steel cans, glass, and No. 1 and No. 2 plastics. Shortly thereafter, Harvey County closed the municipal solid waste landfill and began transferring all trash and refuse to the Reno County landfill. Over the next several years, the county commission expanded the recyclable materials list. The most recent additions came in  2010. 

"We were going on top of the landfill and there was limited space to continue and we knew we were going to run out of room. ... We have saved some room at the facility," said Craig Simmons, former county administrator. "If you do away with the mandatory recycling resolution, we likely lose it. ... We lose it in individual cities, they will change their infrastructure. They will change their trucks."

According to a memo from county staff to the county commission, the goals of recycling in 2000 were to reduce the volume and tonnage of material being placed in the landfill, to extend the usable life of a landfill and to treat "recyclables as a resource of worthy value in our ecosystem." In 2019, the goals of extending the life of the regional landfill remains.

What has changed dramatically is the economics of recycling. 

Over the summer, the county’s outside contractor, Waste Connections, came before the commission to discuss renegotiating its contract, which is currently set to run through 2022. Lack of a market, as well as contamination rate among the county’s recycling loads, led Waste Connections to propose a potential rate increase.

The company performed two audits over the past three months to pinpoint how much of an issue that is.

Reporting back on the findings of its most recent audit to the commission, Waste Connections noted that through three days monitored in early October, the average contamination rate among loads weighed was 36.33%. Acceptable contamination rates for Waste Connections are less than 10%.

Waste Connections has held informational meetings with city haulers to go over acceptable recycling, as well as highlighting Harvey County Resolution 2010-8 — which stipulates it is the responsibility of individual haulers to sort out any contamination. Cities have worked on public education campaigns to reduce contamination. Those efforts, however, did not reduce contamination to a target of 10%.

Despite the discontinuation of mandatory recycling, there may still be a need to maintain the recycling sort center at the Transfer Station as each city will be charged with deciding to continue or discontinue the service. Waste Management will continue to operate the recycling center under contract with the county that was amended by the commission on Tuesday.

Under a new agreement, any loads brought to the facility containing more than 10% contamination, the truck will be banned for 30 days. The second load of more than 10% would be subject to a $350 fee and an additional 30-day ban. Waste Connections is willing to not raise tipping fees that are in the current contract with the county through 2022.

"This is a proposal that is a middle ground to try and keep recycling viable," Swartzendruber said.

"I think the $350 fee is a little steep, and I question the due process," Westfall said. "I understand that society today does not care about recycling and that is a sad statement. ... I think that automation has got us where we are today."

Harvey County will continue to offer free recycling at the Harvey County Solid Waste Facility for all residents.

In other business, the commission:

• Received an update on a courthouse facility assessment. Architects are touring the building and department heads are being surveyed about building needs.

• Received a sales tax report. November was up over 2018, and in line with 2017 and 2016.

• Learned that the state has approved the plans for Camp Hawk Cabins.

• Approved a contract for indigent defense legal services for $160,000.

• Approved an annual maintenance contract, pending review by the county attorney, with Mobile Radio Service for the 800 radio system used by first responders. The contract is more than $41,745.

• Approved a proposal to install 50-amp electrical service for camping pads at East Lake Park and West Park. The project would convert one camping area at each park. The project will be bid with a required site visit from bidders in December.

• Reviewed a proposal from MKEC, the county's engineer, to conduct a feasibility study of potential options for a walking/biking path along Hesston Road between Newton and Hesston. The commission asked staff to ask the cities of Hesston, North Newton and Newton to assist with funding of the study. One option is designated bike lanes and one a path separated from the road.

• Approved staff creating an application for an expansion of the construction and demolition landfill.