Burning of waste favored Panel advises against landfills

February 02, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

After all of the politically correct methods of trash disposal -- recycling, recycling and recycling -- have been exhausted, burning is better than burying, a county solid-waste panel has concluded.

"I wouldn't mind if they put an incinerator in my backyard," said Mariam Mahowald, chairwoman of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee. Yesterday, the committee, appointed in November 1991 by County Executive Charles I. Ecker gave the executive a seven-page report that included recommendations on how to handle the county's solid waste.

Ms. Mahowald said modern waste-to-energy plants, which burn trash to generate electric power, are much cleaner than older plants that have made officials skittish about even mentioning the word incinerator.

"I don't have any fears of it. I think it's a clean system. I wouldn't want a landfill in my backyard," Ms. Mahowald said.

Although her enthusiasm about trash-burning power plants is shared in varying degrees by other members of the committee, the group agreed that the county should spend the next 10 years getting as far away as possible from its dependence on landfills.

The report came a day after the state-imposed deadline for the county to update its 10-year solid-waste plan. Mr. Ecker said state officials gave the county an indefinite extension to allow time for the County Council to approve a plan now being formulated by the Department of Public Works.

Mr. Ecker said he would comment on the report after he had a chance to study it.

Not surprisingly, the report urges the county to "reduce, reuse, recycle as much as possible," Ms. Mahowald said. "Right now, we'd hope for 30 percent [of the waste stream] with those three."

After that, the county could take care of its yard waste -- about 15 percent of the waste generated in Howard -- by composting it at a county facility.

The report suggests that another 20 percent, if possible, be fed to a privately owned experimental trash-composting program. "If thats not feasible, then maybe the county could build a facility," the chairwoman said. If the experiment is a success, a higher percentage could be composted.

But that still leaves 35 percent of the county's waste that will need to be disposed of -- something the report says would best be done in a waste-to-energy plant, Ms. Mahowald said.

"They all have upfront processing of trash, and things are removed that you can't burn or that would be harmful to burn," she said.

Putting incineration in the county's plan is likely to meet with organized political opposition. At least one environmental group, Clean Water Action, organized a county letter-writing campaign last year urging a moratorium on incinerator construction.

"We did not strongly say that the county should build a composting facility, and we did not say that the county should build an incinerator," Ms. Mahowald explained. "What we are trying to do is make room for a regional plan so that Howard County can take part in a regional [waste-to-energy] plant."

Baltimore-area counties, including Howard, moved a step closer to that Wednesday.

County and city chief executives agreed that a regional facility would go a long way toward solving solid-waste problems and authorized an in-depth study of the idea, said James M. Irvin, Howard's public works director.

A preliminary study by the jurisdictions' public works officials concluded that a regional facility could add years to their burgeoning landfills, Mr. Irvin said.

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