Can The County Recycle Pittsburgh's Curbside Pickup?

THE OBSERVER

July 07, 1991|By Mark Guidera

If you ask Maribeth Rizzuto, the trash recycling coordinator for thecity of Pittsburgh, why the city's recycling program has such a highcompliance, she sums up the reason this way: "The program is very simple."

And it's that thought that Harford County government administrators have tried to keep in mind in drafting a plan to get Harfordresidents to sort recyclables out of their trash for pickup. They'vemodeled their proposal, in part, on the highly successful Pittsburghprogram.

But simplicity isn't all of the magic in the Pittsburgh program. It's also mandatory. Come September, residents who don't sort their trash will be facing initial fines of $38 and second-offense fines as high as $500.

The city also launched an inventive educational program before starting the pickup of recyclables -- every residence in the city received a brochure in the mail explaining how to comply and a refrigerator magnet with directions, as well.

Harford's program will be voluntary and the educational end of the program is fuzzy.

County administrators say the county plans to launch educational initiatives in the schools to get kids to jostle parents into recycling,and the county will rely on private haulers to inform customers about how the program will work.

Since Pittsburgh launched its programlast September, the city estimates its waste flow to landfills has been reduced by about 7 percent.

That's a far cry from the 25 percent reduction that County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann says she hopes to achieve within three years under what will be a voluntary program.

Given the Pittsburgh experience, one has to wonder if the Rehrmann target for waste reduction isn't way high.

And you have to wonder, given the Pittsburgh statistics, whether a voluntary program here in Harford can even hope to meet the state's mandate to reduce waste flow to its landfill by 15 percent. Pittsburgh isn't recycling newspapers or yard waste; Harford will, so maybe that will help with a higher reduction.

At any rate, Harford has more compelling need than Pittsburgh to see a high compliance rate among residents -- for the county's landfill space is filling up with lightning speed.

By May the last cell at the county-owned and -operated Scarboro landfill willbe full. Trash sent to the Northeast Waste Disposal Authority's waste-to-energy plant on Aberdeen Proving Ground is being diverted to thecentral landfill because the plant can't handle incinerating the high volume. The county is spending $2.5 million of taxpayers' money in lean economic times to build a new cell and looking at paying to expand the waste-to-energy plant.

Fueling the landfill crisis is the the trash from the 40,000 new residents who have shown up in Harford since 1985.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, doesn't have such woes. The city (pop. 375,000) is in the enviable position of having 11 privately run landfills to send its trash to, and Rizzuto estimates thereis enough landfill space for the city's trash for at least another 10 years.

Despite the lack of a compelling need to encourage peopleto reduce the flow of garbage into the landfills, Pittsburgh is reporting a 75 percent compliance rate among residents in its curbside pickup recycling program.

Come September, the city will be aiming for 100 percent compliance when it comes under a statewide mandate to do so.

Penalties were waived during the first year of the program, so it's obviously not the threat of the law that has people in Pittsburgh sorting their trash for plastic, metal and glass.

The keystone of the Pittsburgh program, says Rizzuto, is "the blue bags" -- something Harford residents will be hearing a lot about in the next six months.

"The blue bags," opaque blue plastic bags, come in several sizes to line various types of trash containers and are sold at most grocery stores.

"I feel real confident we've been successful because we've kept the program simple," says Rizzuto.

Pittsburgh residents throw into one blue bag the three types of recyclables the city has mandated must be sorted: glass, metal and recyclable plastics.

"There are no heavy recycling bins for people to buy or carry, no major sorting; anyone -- old, young or handicapped -- can carry the bluebags," Rizzuto notes. "And most major grocery stores will now put your groceries in a blue plastic bag upon request, so people can get blue bags for free if they need to."

Harford's program, as proposed by the county executive, would work a bit differently than Pittsburgh's model, but the basic tenant is the same: Get out the blue bags andkeep it simple.

Still, it will be interesting to see what kind ofcompliance the county gets out of a voluntary program that has a lotat stake if residents don't blue bag it.

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