Counties complain of cost of recycling, ask for state help State must provide markets, delay raising goals, House panel is told.

September 11, 1991|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

While many Maryland recycling centers are jammed with eager residents, local governments say recycling programs will be expensive and difficult to operate unless the state helps create markets for the growing volume of reusable trash.

"Recycling is expensive. There's no way to avoid that," Linda Fields, Howard County's recycling manager, told the House Environmental Matters Committee yesterday.

Fields and other officials at a daylong recycling hearing in Annapolis also urged legislators not to impose more statewide recycling mandates. Instead, they said, Maryland's current law -- which requires all jurisdictions to recycle 15 to 20 percent of their trash by 1994 -- needs refining.

Representatives of the Maryland Association of Counties told the panel that counties are struggling with the expense of starting up new collection, processing and marketing programs.

Fields noted that curbside collection of recyclables costs Howard as much as $143 a ton, compared with $40 a ton for regular trash collection.

But at least one legislator said he was frustrated by what he sees as a gap between the enthusiasm of citizens for recycling and the willingness of governments to respond.

"The citizens of this state are so far ahead of government," said Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Balto. Co. "I just don't get the

feeling that the counties understand that. The people politically demand [recycling]."

LaMotte criticized Baltimore County for offering virtually no curbside collection of recyclables. "I don't think I'm going to see curbside recycling in Baltimore County in my lifetime," he complained.

MACO representatives responded that the counties are frustrated by what they see as a lack of communication among the state agencies that are supposed to help counties meet Maryland's recycling mandate. They called for a single state authority to oversee solid waste and recycling programs and provide technical support.

Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, agreed that state agencies and counties need to work harder to promote both recycling programs and markets for recyclables.

But, he said, "I think the counties are going to surprise us. I think they will be able to exceed the state goals."

George Perdikakis, director of the Maryland Environmental Service, a state agency that provides technical assistance for local recycling programs, agreed with local officials that the legislature should not impose more recycling mandates until the current programs get a chance to work.

Despite problems, he said, "the counties are doing it."

Robert Perciasepe, secretary of the state Department of the Environment, added that the 15 to 20 percent recycling goal should not be raised until later in the decade. Some states have set recycling goals as high as 60 percent, but critics say they are unrealistic.

A survey of local recycling efforts, prepared for the environmental matters committee by the Department of Legislative Reference, showed that nine jurisdictions, including Baltimore and Baltimore County, claim to be recycling at least 10 percent of their trash.

Five counties -- Frederick, Garrett, Howard, St. Mary's and Wicomico -- may have trouble meeting the state recycling goal by 1994, according to the survey.

Among suggestions for improvements from those attending the hearing:

* MACO officials said the General Assembly should amend state law so recycling of scrap building material, used concrete and asphalt can be counted toward meeting the recycling goals. That would make it easier for smaller counties struggling to afford recycling programs.

* MACO officials also said that waste reduction, as well as recycling, should be counted toward the recycling goals. A county, for example, could take credit for promoting home composting of yard waste, which would keep the material out of landfills just as recycling does.

* Markets for some material, including used plastic containers, can be fostered by requiring manufacturers to use a certain percentage of recyclables. Suppliers of "virgin" plastics are under-pricing suppliers of recycled plastics to gain a competitive advantage, Perciasepe said.

The state already requires newspaper publishers to use increasing amounts of recycled paper, and Perciasepe said legislators should look at similar measures for other products.

* The state should treat trash just like water and sewer service and telephone service, some officials said. Residents should be charged according to how much trash they throw out. People who recycle more should pay less.

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