Tonawanda resumes recycling after complaint

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The town was disposing of recyclables with garbage in an effort to protect employees, but the DEC said stop.

FILE – In this Nov. 15, 2016, file photo, crushed plastic bottles sit in a bale following sorting at the Mid-America Recycling plant, in Lincoln, Neb. Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Keurig Dr. Pepper are investing $100 million to improve U.S. bottle recycling and processing. (Francis Gardler/The Journal-Star via AP, File)

Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.

The Town of Tonawanda resumed recycling services Monday after residents complained to state environmental regulators that sanitation employees disposed of recyclable items in the garbage truck.

Tonawanda Highway Superintendent Thomas C. Jones said his workforce is a third of what it normally would be, so he made the decision to scrap recycling during the coronavirus pandemic to protect his employees.

“I just wanted to get the job done, get the streets clean and get the guys home as soon as possible,” Jones said.

Typically, the town has one truck for garbage and a second truck for recyclables. Jones said his concern was that employees are required to inspect recyclables for “contamination,” which are items that cannot be recycled, and remove that material from the truck. He did not believe that would be safe for employees with the coronavirus spreading like it is.

“I was trying to protect my workers,” he said.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said it “has been in contact with multiple municipalities where collection of wastes and recyclables have been impacted due to workforce reductions caused by COVID-19.”

“DEC will continue to work with those communities where short-term adjustments to regular waste management activities are necessary,” the DEC said in a statement.

Town officials did not know that the New York on PAUSE initiative does not require them to reduce their waste management schedules.

The state has already determined waste and recyclable collections as essential services if employees practice social distancing.

Jones said the DEC did not impose any fines against the town.

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