Visual inspection of loads of recycling brought to the Harvey County sorting facility have been rejected after changes to the contract between Waste Connections and Harvey County — and that has affected Newton sanitation services.

The contractual change went into effect Jan. 1, allowing Waste Connections to reject loads with more than 10% contamination, issue fines to haulers and suspend dumping privileges for 30 days when loads are rejected.

According to Harvey County, all the loads from Newton on Monday were rejected. Found in the recycling containers were shoes, extension cords, an office chair and soiled diapers.

“Since the county started looking at how they were going to treat this, it was important for us to make sure we did not have any contaminants in the recycling stream,” said Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for Newton. “That has caused us to issue a lot of violation notices to residents. … We have been educating people from day one.”

Violation notices have increased dramatically in the last two years — hitting 652 in 2019 after writing 253 in 2018 and 257 in 2017. City staff said in 2020 there has been an average of 110 daily violation notices written in 2020.

That is in part because the city responded to changes made by the county, which as of Jan. 1 began allowing contractor Waste Connections to reject loads with more than 10% contamination — and issue fines of $300 and a 30-day suspension of dumping rights for trucks that exceed the 10% threshold a second time.

“We have had loads rejected this week,” Loomis said.

Harvey County removed the mandatory recycling ordinance last year.

“We have been doing mandatory recycling in Newton since 1999,” Loomis said.

On Tuesday, the city commission chose to move forward with a voluntary program after a 4-1 vote, with Kathy Valentine against, meaning users would opt in to the recycling program if they want to continue to recycle.

“I have heard from enough passionate constituents about this that they want to keep recycling, I think we should do this for a year and see how it goes,” said Mayor Leroy Koehn. “At that end of that year, we will have numbers on how many users we have, costs, everything.”

Staff proposed a fee increase of $1.08 per month, per customer, whether they recycle or not. The city has about 7,200 trash/recycling customers. Doing away with recycling all together would have also led to a rate increase for all customers — about 34 cents per month.

The new fee structure will be seen on city bills in March.

Curbside or alley collections will cost $24.37 monthly. The city will provide a second trash cart to nonrecyclers without an additional fee.

Sanitation customers will be notified by mail of the changes, and asked to respond if they choose to recycle or not.

Requirements would include only recycling No. 1 throughout 7 plastics; glass food and beverage containers; aluminum and steel food containers; missed paper products; and corrugated cardboard. All recyclables must be clean. No styrofoam, pizza boxes, plastic bags, toys, solid paper or shredded paper will be allowed.

“Plastic bags are the biggest offender,” Loomis said. “... You can't put your recycling in a bag because when it gets to the facility all of the recyclables are split apart and picked out and it can't be in a bag to do that. The bags catch on the equipment. … If someone chooses to recycle, we want them to be able to do it and do it according to the rules the county's contractor has provided.”

If nonrecyclables are found in a container, residents could be subject to fines and removal from the recycling program.

Keeping the program going would require the hiring of a full-time person at a cost of $45,000 to inspect containers. Staff estimate about 725 customers will volunteer for the recycling program.

“I have a real concern with a staff addition for those few customers,” Commissioner Kathy Valentine said. “As the decline. ... At $1.08, that does not sound like much, but it is 34 cents to go without recycling. …. How low would you go with voluntary customers before you would end that program.”

“This is something that we have to evaluate every year,” Loomis said. “I can tell you that the county's rules two years from now, or a year from now, may be different from now. The tipping fees for trash will increase in two years, I guarantee that.”

In other business, the commission:

• Waived fees for the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home.

• Agreed to terms of a an agreement with KDOT for improvements to K-15 highway.

• Set the dates and times for fireworks discharge and sales for Independence Day.

• Approved a resolution to amend and extend the comprehensive plan through 2020.

• Discussed a possible housing development at W. First and Boyd Street, a property owned by the city. Mennonite Housing asked the city to consider a senior housing project up to 120 units in size on the property and would apply for a tax-exempt status if the project is approved.

• Named The Newton Kansan the official newspaper of the city for 2020.

• Authorized funding for a project to repair the Sand Creek dam.