We Need Recycling Plan

Readers write

March 10, 1991

From: Christopher C. Boardman


Gary Gately's lead article of March 3, "Energy plant filled to capacity," requires comment.

Your reporter informs us that the county is seeking to expand the plant's daily capacity by 125 tons to accommodate the additional flow of trash. This would be nearly a 40 percent increase over the current capacity and is estimated to cost the taxpayers an additional $10 to $15 million, according to your article.

I assume that the plant manager, William F. Davidson, is speaking only about the cost of expansion of the plant's capacity. Ostensibly,he is hoping to have the U.S. Army pick up the additional cost of operation by buying more steam, which he indicates may not be in their plans.

I am opposed to the proposed waste-to-steam plant expansion. Once again, the taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill for both expansion of the plant and operation of it, when the county governmenthas steadfastly refused to establish comprehensive recycling program, first, in the previous administration and now, it seems, in the current one.

Politicians in Harford County have given lip service to recycling, but so far they have not taken the concrete steps necessary to establish and run such a program. The models for a successful recycling program are available from other subdivisions in this and other states, without having the county commit to programs that are not yet bug-free. What is lacking in Harford County is the resolve to make it happen.

It requires bold and decisive leadership to put the programs for recycling in place and convince the people to participatein them.

The ball is now in the court of the County Council and executive to make this happen. They jointly have the authority and theresponsibility to do this. They cannot rely exclusively any longer on the good will of some dedicated environmentalists and school teachers, and the benefices of the school board, as a substitute for their failure or refusal to act. They are under a state mandate to do so, and yet, unbelievably, a county recycling plan still has not been submitted to the state more than seven months after it was due.

A recycling program as required by state law would effectively remove 20 percent of the trash from the waste stream. This in effect is a 20 percent expansion of the trash-to-steam plant's capacity, if implemented.A more ambitious recycling program would further conserve the plant's use and extend the plant's existing capacity for some time to come.The goals of a 20 to 50 percent reduction in the waste stream are achievable and can be economical for the county, but they cannot be accomplished without planning, commitment and action.

The passive excuse used to avoid recycling -- "The markets are not ready" -- is unmitigated poppycock. The markets are ready; it's the county that isn't.

The taxpayers should be ready for the savings that recycling can bring. A 20 percent reduction, at the current rates paid to the Northeast Waste Authority by the county, would create approximately $250,000 annually in cost avoidance. A 50 percent reduction would result inapproximately $625,000 in cost avoidance. These economies would be in addition to the avoidance of the cost of the proposed plant expansion.

At the same time, certain recyclables recovered from the wastestream do have a positive market value, and as time goes on, their value may increase. Aluminum, of course, is well known. Plastics, which account for a large part of the volume, currently command 10 cents a pound on the market. Newspaper and glass are not as strong, but thecompensation received for them, plus the positive effect of diversion from the waste stream, are beneficial to the environment and conserve landfill space.

It will cost some money to put a recycling program into effect, but the costs will be more than compensated for by the economies of cost avoidance and resource recovery that such a program will create.

Before the county rushes pell-mell into a trash-to-steam plant expansion, wouldn't it be wise to have the stack emissions of the plant currently in operation closely monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency?

Are emissions currently in compliancewith federal and state standards, or are officials winking because they have no alternative programs in place? To what extent does the burning of vehicle tires contribute to emission control problems?

All of these questions must be answered, in my view, satisfactorily with a view to compliance with clean air legislation before any expansion is even contemplated.

Last summer, while she was campaigning forthe office of county executive, Eileen Rehrmann participated in the meetings of the Northeast Recycling Coalition and lent her support tothese efforts. Hopefully, now that she has been elected, she will have her administration follow through on those goals that she supported.


From: Michelle Kiesel


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