In matters of trash, Anne Arundel County is at a crossroads.
By January, crucial decisions must be made on what to do with the garbage this county of 448,000 people generates. Will the county build another landfill? Or will it turn to other methods of disposal, including a combination of incineration, composting, recycling and simply reducing the amount of trash we throw away?
In a 10-year solid-waste management plan released this week, county officials have set goals that significantly exceed state requirements. By July 1996, the county will recycle 35 percent of its trash, far above the 20 percent required by state law. The county now recycles 22 percent of its trash.
And within five years, it will reduce the amount of garbage discarded by residents and businesses by 20 percent, possibly by reducing garbage pickup from twice to once a week and charging residents for the amount of trash they put out.
The plan, mandated by state law, sets a tight time line for making decisions on what the county will do with trash it doesn't recycle. A decision will have to be made by January on whether Anne Arundel will join with neighboring counties in building waste-management facilities such as an incinerator or a composting operation.
The county's environmental community welcomed the plan as an honest and comprehensive attempt to deal with the county's trash problems, particularly applauding the emphasis on recycling and waste minimization.
"What they've come up with seems to me a reasonable approach to a difficult problem," said A. L. "Red" Waldron, chairman of the Severn River Commission. "It's, of course, vague enough that they've left themselves some wiggle room."
But there is also a general feeling that the plan could be more ambitious.
The goals "are not fast enough and are not high enough," said James R. Martin Jr., president of the Severn River Association. "They need to get serious about this, they need to get really intense about this."
Specifically, environmentalists say the county should be able to achieve 40 percent recycling in about half the time allotted to reach the 35 percent goal. A good way to do this, Mr. Martin said, would be to offer curbside recycling for businesses and multifamily dwellings, as is now available to single-family residences.
Environmentalists advocate the 40-40-20 plan, in which 40 percent of the county's trash would be recycled, 40 percent would be composted and avoided through incentives to reduce consumption, and 20 percent would be placed in a landfill.
"We can do this and it would cost you about half as much as an incinerator," said Mary Rosso, president of Maryland Waste Coalition.
According to the solid-waste plan, if county officials decide not to proceed with alternatives to burying trash, such as incineration, they must immediately tackle the difficult issue of where the next landfill will go.
If a new landfill is necessary, the report recommends, the process for selecting a site should begin within two years.
L The Millersville landfill is projected to be filled by 2007.
Finding a location for a new landfill will create intense controversy in whatever community is chosen. And at $1 million an acre, new landfill construction will be expensive.
The solid-waste plan therefore emphasizes that the preference is to find other ways to deal with trash, including giving serious consideration to a regional waste-to-energy incinerator.
"The establishment and utilization of a waste-to-energy facility in the region is a viable concept and must be actively pursued," the report said.
A citizen advisory committee that studied a draft of the solid waste plan also strongly urged the county to build an incinerator.
The National Security Agency is studying whether such an incinerator should be built at Fort Meade. It would take trash from several surrounding counties and provide a back-up energy supply for the intelligence complex in western Anne Arundel County.
But an incinerator is likely to generate fierce opposition from environmentalists and others worried about possible toxic emissions from the smokestack and in the ash, which would have to be deposited in a landfill.
"I think the county would be very wrong to enter into any agreement [to build an incinerator] until they have looked very hard at the alternatives," said Ms. Rosso, who has long fought efforts to place a medical waste facility in southern Baltimore, just across the Anne Arundel County line.
Rather, she said, a properly constructed composting facility would be preferable.