Blue-Bagging in Harford

July 29, 1992

Harford County officials are anything but blue over their blue bag recycling program. Just two months into the program, the county reports it is recycling 12 percent of its waste stream, more than most other metropolitan jurisdictions are reporting.

Harford officials feel that once businesses join residential customers in regular recycling, the county will meet the state requirement for recycling 20 percent of its waste well before the 1994 deadline. Not bad for a jurisdiction that had the dubious distinction of being last in the state to submit a recycling plan.

On top of that, officials had the complication of working out a program in a county where trash is picked up by private contractors. And some of them, frankly, didn't come along peacefully.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, in fact, recently called a meeting to suggest firmly to several haulers that if they didn't make a greater effort to offer a range of recycling and collection options for customers, she would consider dumping the free enterprise system and franchising trash pick-up. She doesn't want to do that, she cautions, but some of the county's largest haulers have been gouging customers as a result of the recycling changes that took effect June 1. Because the county instituted a $35-a-ton tipping fee for non-recyclable trash, some firms estimated the increased cost, then raised their rates to err on the side of caution -- at their customers' expense. Mrs. Rehrmann was none too pleased.

One firm, McKenzie Sanitation of Baldwin, however, has picked up about 15 percent more business by instituting a "Bag and Tag" program. Customers buy large bright stickers from the company to adhere to their trash bags or containers, so in effect, they only pay for as much garbage collection as they use -- like water or electricity. Customers don't put stickers on the blue bags of recyclables they leave out at the curb because the county doesn't charge the hauler a tipping fee on those. The program, increasingly popular around the country, has reportedly been working well; one firm's headache becomes another's opportunity.

Harford County has a legacy of recycling activism; its privately run Susquehannock Environmental Center just celebrated 20 years and is among the oldest volunteer recycling operations in the nation. But recycling's days as the sole passion of a band of hearty environmentalists are over. Mrs. Rehrmann is correct in wielding a big stick to advance the county's goals.

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