After spending months in planning to create a voluntary recycling program in the city of Newton, and then working with participants to get contamination reduced to levels to allow that recycling into the sorting center at the County Transfer Station, COVID-19 put a temporary hold on parts of the program.


At least temporarily, the city is not inspecting recycling bins before picking them up — and the recycling is not being taken to the recycling center.


“Right now we are not inspecting recyclables out of concern about the contamination risk for our staff,” said city public information officer Erin McDaniel. “This is expected to continue until the coronavirus threat is reduced.”


That means the city is taking the recycling to the transfer station, and it is headed to the landfill.


That has a ripple effect — the tonnage being brought to the county transfer station is on the rise.


“We are seeing an increase in trash coming across the tipping floor,” said county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber. “... We are going to have to ramp up a little bit to take the additional [trash] to Reno County [Landfill].”


There will be an increased cost to the city, as trash tipping fees are higher than recycling tipping fees. However, the city also would be subject to fine if recycling trucks collect loads with too many unqualified materials within them.


The city does not anticipate a budget problem as result of the increased tonnage headed to the transfer station.


"The city did budget for contaminated loads in the first six months of voluntary recycling. But in fact, our residents have done an excellent job recycling, and we haven’t had to expend extra funds on rejected loads,“ McDaniel said.


McDaniel said residents should continue to sort recyclables “to stay in the habit,” and that the city could resume recycling at any time. “A number of other services have been scaled back during the stay-home order, including street maintenance, park maintenance, environmental inspections and airport operations, although we continue to respond to emergencies like repairs after water main breaks or traffic signals being out,” McDaniel said.


Staff is working on plans to bring back some operations using smaller work groups, staggered shifts and other steps to work within public health guidelines.