From Yard Waste to 'Black Gold'

September 27, 1993

For more than a year, leaders of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council have talked a good game about creating regional solutions to regional problems. And not much else.

But now it appears the non-profit corporation that guides joint efforts of the elected executives of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties is nearing fruition with its first major project: a yard-waste composting facility to serve the city and Anne Arundel and Howard counties, the area subdivisions that lack such a facility or at least a plan for one. The proposed site is in eastern Howard County, near the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 176.

One of the biggest problems affecting the jurisdictions of central Maryland -- and a key concern of the council's -- is the disposal of solid waste that threatens to stuff local landfills at an alarmingly fast rate. The largest single component in the average trash dump is yard waste, comprising about a fifth of the total amount in each landfill. It makes good sense, then, for the BMC to advocate a regional facility that would turn yard waste into compost, or "black gold," in gardener's parlance.

The council will need help to make it happen. The Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority will issue a request-for-proposal by mid-October, hoping to find a private developer to pay for the construction and operation of the plant in exchange for the profits from the sale of the compost. Demand for the fertilizer should grow as peat moss becomes more rare and environmentalists seek to block the further destruction of peat bogs.

A disposal authority official says a developer could be selected in November, with the facility possibly opened by next spring, just in time for the first lawn mowings, tree-trimmings, brush-clearings and other rites of the season.

The biggest challenge to this worthy project will likely be the NIMBYism of the future facility's neighbors. The BMC must mount a solid education campaign to sell the public on the necessity of the operation. For starters, nervous citizens should be directed to similar facilities in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Because they're run so professionally, they pose few problems. The disposal authority, which would monitor the Howard facility, pledges the same level of performance.

A yard-waste composting plant in central Maryland is long overdue. We hope this will prove only the first example of talk about solid waste remedies being turned into action by the metro council.

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