The Mandate -- and Lessons -- of Recycling
Editor: Recycling in Baltimore has been dealt a major setback. The city's dynamic recycling coordinator, Steve Chidsey, has accepted a position out of state where he won't have to work with one hand tied behind his back.
Steve was charged with developing and implementing a recycling plan for Baltimore -- but given no money to do it. He devised a system where private haulers would pick up recyclables at curbside for the cost of what the city would have paid to dump them at the incinerator -- about $39 per ton.
Recycling advocates were pleased with the plan because it called for curbside service to every residence by the end of 1992 and encouraged small and minority-owned local businesses to participate in all aspects of recycling.
Two zones were brought on-line in November; roughly 24,000 homes have been receiving curbside service since then. Unfortunately, six months of experience has shown that it just isn't working very well. Many areas are getting picked up a day or two after the recyclables are set out at the curb. Why? Well, in order not to take too much of a loss, the hauler is putting out too few trucks and too few workers to do an adequate job.
This, combined with virtually no public education on the city's part, is leading to discouragement and a decrease in participation.
It turns out that the costs of running a truck (insurance, gas, etc), paying the workers' wages and making a living just cannot be done on $39 per ton. Programs that are successful elsewhere pay roughly twice that amount.
After 10 years of federal cutbacks, the city understandably has limited resources.
However, those of us who have been recycling for a while know that after you separate out your recyclables, you just don't have that much trash left over. I often don't bother putting anything out on the second trash day of the week.
If we were to contract out the second trash collection to private haulers of recyclables, we would save about $6 million a year (mainly in wages). Since there is such a high attrition rate in solid waste collection, this could be phased in so that no layoffs would occur.
Successful programs have once a week trash collection, once a week recyclables collection. If we want to succeed, we're going to have to get the funding.
Any politician who has the courage to call for adequate funding will have my support and the support of the thousands of Baltimoreans who care about recycling. We will remember you in the upcoming fall elections.
The writer heads the Baltimore Recycling Coalition.
Editor: Let's get serious. When Robert Burruss (Opinion * Commentary, April 16) writes of preposterous costs to run the Starship Enterprise, his thesis rests on an equally preposterous assumption.
He tries to have us believe the cost for the Enterprise's antimatter fuel will be the same as what many of us pay today in the United States for electricity, around 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Thus, he postulates a $592-trillion expense for a modest acceleration of Captain Kirk's ship. No advanced civilization -- not even one as fully in the grip of a military-industrial fist as we've been for a decade or more -- would hold still for such expenditures.
No, the cost of antimatter fuel, collected freely from interstellar dust, should have a price tag much less than all that sunlight he favors -- and we now use so little of -- as he describes so graphically. Today's 6 cents per killowatt-hour includes all the costs to gather up the fuel, e.g., coal, oil or uranium, process it, move it to the power plant, run and maintain the plant and lots of profit-taking and taxes each step of the way before that energy finally gets to the light bulb in your house.
Yes, it would be very nice to capture and use all that "free" sunlight energy. In fact, it's now totally feasible (but rarely economical), except for a growing list of special situations; remote weather stations, for instance. But, unfortunately, getting that "free" energy into your light bulb still costs more than our traditional methods for producing and delivering electric power.
As soon as the cost to light up our homes and factories by using coal, oil or uranium becomes more expensive than converting sunlight to electricity, we will do it. It's just a matter of economics, not science or engineering. And we'll do most of it right here on earth, except for the antimatter collection centers, of course.
ndrew F. Conn.
Editor: I would like to point out that Sun reporter John M. McClintock, in his article "Free trade talks focus on U.S.-Mexico differences," April 7, distorts the opinions of the Japanese socialist legislator, Kei Inoue, in order to introduce a racist argument against Mexico.