County needs to revise trash, recycling plans

READERS WRITE

September 06, 1992

From: Geoffrey R. Close

Bel Air

In late 1991, County Executive Eileen Rehrmann announced the beginning of curbside recycling in Harford County. The State of Maryland had long since mandated that every county and Baltimore City reduce the never-ending flow of rubbish by 20 percent; only Harford County had failed to adopt an approved recycling plan.

After months of exhaustive study and debate, Rehrmann decided that voluntary curbside recycling was the best alternative. Private haulers would collect "blue bags" full of recyclables onceweekly. Unrecycled trash would be taxed at the landfill at $60 a ton. (This tax was later reduced to $35 per ton by the County Council).

The trash tax, or "tipping fee," would be used to pay for new public sorting and transport facilities for recyclables. The "blue bag" program would supposedly combine the best elements of Harford County's unique private hauler system with a minimum of government involvement.

One year later, it is apparent that there are serious fissures in the plan. In fact, the entire solid waste program, which was the envy of every other county in Maryland, has been ruined in a matter of months.

G; First and foremost among many problems is that the plan

hasn't reduced the amount of waste going into the landfill. While many concerned citizens have begun to recycle, most still don't.

Many countians mistake the $35 per ton "tipping fee" for a "recycling fee;" they believe that the county sorts recyclables from rubbish at the landfill. Households that do sort recyclables have not reduced the total volume of their household rubbish by 20 percent, and many who recycle don't sort recyclables correctly.

Newspapers that are not tied into bundles blow off sorting belts and end up in the dump. Bottles that get broken in storage or transit cannot be sorted later. Glass bottles mixed with plastics are not accepted by recycling centers.

)As a result, nearly 40 percent

of all "recycled" products from Harford must be returned to the county and hauled to the landfill. Furthermore, haulers are still picking up cans full of trash twice weekly, and all of it is going to the landfill.

Harford still has no plan for commercial recycling. The former director of Susquehannock Recycling Center, Bruce Davies, commenced work on a commercial plan for the county in July, at the request of the center's founder, Bob Chance. However, Mr. Davies was considered "too close" to the county's private haulers to be trusted by the Rehrmann administration. The administration advised Chance that Davies could not be involved with the plan, and Davies subsequently left Susquehannock. Result, there is no coor

dinated business recycling effort in Harford County.

Most businesses don't have weekly curbside pickup; rather, they use Dumpsters. Unless businesses drive their recyclables to the Susquehannock Environmental Center, their recyclables end up in the bin. All trash in commercial bins ends up in the landfill.

Harford has not yet commenced construction of its own sorting and transfer facility for recyclables. Accordingly, recyclables that have been properly sorted and picked up must be transferred to the BFI collection and transfer facility in Baltimore County. However, BFI is overloaded with recyclable material. The commercial

See LETTERS, 11A, Col. 1 LETTERS, from 10A

demand for recycled material is still well behind the available supply. Result, the county must pay $20 to $30 per ton for BFI to accept its recyclables.

The citizens hope for more voluntary compliance, wait for a commercial recycling plan, wait for the county to build a transfer facility, and wait for industry to find a way to use everything we've recycled. Meanwhile, mountains of trash continue to grow. Unfortunately, Harford's trash problems don't stop here.

The new "tipping fee" has spawned a host of problems, not least of which has been collection. The "blue bag" plan was approved by the County Council and signed into law by the county executive months ago. However, the county has yet to collect a single dollar in tipping fees, which went into effect June 1.

By conservative estimates, private haulers currently owe the county at least $1 million in tipping fees. However, the county has yet to implement a billing system to collect these fees. In fact, the county neglected to hire a perma

nent administrator to oversee billing or voluntary compliance until one month after the "tipping fee" was implemented.

The tipping fee has set off a new series of confrontations between the county and the towns of Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Bel Air.

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