Open hearing on recycling to answer queries on trash

January 30, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Got a complaint about curbside recycling? Curious about when you might be able to get rid of leftover house paint and used automobile oil as easily as last week's newspapers and soft drink cans?

Harford County residents will be able to ask questions and air complaints during a public hearing Tuesday night with county recycling specialists.

The hearing is part of the annual process of reviewing the recycling plan's progress before the County Council.

The county has exceeded the state-mandated goal of reducing its total waste by 20 percent by a January 1994 deadline, said Robert Ernst, recycling coordinator for the county.

He said that the amount of trash recycled in the program has climbed steadily since the curbside residential program began 19 months ago and that he expects the six-month figures ending in December 1993 to show a 24 percent to 25 percent recycling rate for the county.

While complete recycling figures for 1993 have not been tabulated, Mr. Ernst said that more than 1,000 tons of blue bags were collected in December.

That figure compares with the 543 tons collected during the first month of operation in June 1992. "We are steadily improving," he said.

He noted that while the state set a goal of 20 percent waste reduction for counties with a population of at least 150,000, Harford has set its own goal of 25 percent for 1994.

Beyond that, he said, "the county's 10-year solid-waste plan calls for a 50 percent reduction in waste going into the landfill by the year 2003."

All five trash haulers operating in Harford's residential neighborhoods are required to offer a recyclables pickup once a week.

The haulers accept glass, plastic, and aluminum -- which can be bagged together -- and paper, including newspapers, magazines and corrugated cardboard.

Compliance on the part of residents is voluntary, but Mr. Ernst said the program has had "tremendous response."

During the first seven months of the program in 1992, the county recycled 14.9 percent of its total trash. By the first half of 1993, the rate had increased to 22.6 percent.

In addition, he said, the county receives a 5 percent credit toward the state mandate for its waste-to-energy facility in Magnolia, where trash is incinerated before it is buried at the Scarboro landfill. With that credit, the county has been meeting the 20 percent mandate for more than a year, he said.

But recycling still has a long way to go.

Many residents, though well-intentioned, still are not recycling properly, Mr. Ernst said.

Some don't tie the blue bags adequately, allowing the wrong items to mix, and others try to recycle unacceptable items, such as yogurt containers, pizza boxes and cereal boxes.

With new people moving into the county regularly, "it requires constant education to keep our residents familiar with what goes in the bags," Mr. Ernst said.

About four months into the program, the county instituted a system of pink "Sorry" stickers for rejecting certain items.

Haulers put a "Sorry" sticker on any bag deemed unacceptable, whether it's an improperly tied or overstuffed bag of newspapers or a bag of glass bottles with caps attached.

The sticker is intended to say, "Thanks for trying, but we can't accept this."

"One of the biggest problems we have is with plastic," Mr. Ernst said. "We only take narrow-neck bottles." An easy test for the consumer, he said, is to note whether the opening of the container is wider than its base. If it is -- as in most yogurt cups and margarine tubs -- it probably fails the recyclables test.

Plastic bottles once filled with motor oil, though of recyclable size, have unacceptable residues.

In November, the county began accepting magazines and other glossy paper for recycling because Browning-Ferris Industries, the Howard County company that processes the recycled goods at its Elkridge plant, found a market for them.

The hearing on the recycling plan will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in County Council chambers on Level A of the Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air.

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