Recycling Economics CARROLL COUNTY

November 17, 1993

If the Carroll County commissioners want to know whether to go to mandatory recycling instead of a voluntary system, they ought to focus on the right set of numbers. Instead of comparing the percentage of solid waste recycled under voluntary programs versus mandatory programs, they should focus on the cost of filling landfills with garbage that could go elsewhere.

The more garbage that goes into the landfills, the shorter their life. If current rates of disposal continue, officials project the county's two landfills will reach capacity about the year 2007.

By taking as much recyclable trash out of the waste stream as possible, the county might halve its volume of landfilled material. Composting grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste would reduce the volume another 10 percent. Some construction rubble can also be recycled.

While all this recycling helps the environment, it is also good for the county's pocketbook. Prolonging the life of the existing landfills is the cheapest way to handle solid waste. Once the landfills are full, the county will have to resort to other, more costly, methods of waste disposal.

Waste-to-energy incinerators or sophisticated composting plants, for example, will require large investments. Landfills should only be used for material that cannot be recycled, composted or disposed of in another way. In short, it should be the disposal site of last resort.

Mandatory recycling is the only effective and equitable method. The residents who are recycling voluntarily or the towns that have mandatory recycling programs should not be shouldering the burden for the rest of county residents. People who argue that mandatory recycling is just one more government mandate should also recognize that they are wasting tax dollars by exhausting the landfill prematurely.

Recycling does create additional inconveniences to citizens, who must separate their garbage, and costs for trash haulers, who have to invest in new equipment and containers for their customers. But substantial savings should come in the long run.

With less material being dumped in the landfills, tipping costs will drop for haulers. And the longer taxpayers can use the landfill, the less they will have to pay in taxes or garbage fees. In the long run, mandatory recycling makes more sense.

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