More than 25% of county's trash recycled, surpassing state goal

March 18, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County has exceeded expectations in meeting this year's state-mandated recycling goal, finding new uses for more than a quarter of the county's trash.

The 1988 Maryland Recycling Act requires that counties with more than 150,000 people recycle at least 20 percent of their waste or be subject to a building moratorium.

In the last half of 1993, nearly 26 percent of the county's waste was recycled, thanks in large part to an experimental trash-composting plant in Baltimore and beginning curbside collection for the last 20,000 county homes without the service, said Linda Fields, the county's recycling chief.

The figure is just two percentage points short of the county's self-imposed goal of 28 percent, and eight points above the 18 percent showing for the first half of 1993.

"I think it's tremendous," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "My dream was to reach 28 percent by June of this year, but that was just a pipe dream. But that may be realized."

The county lagged behind other Baltimore-area jurisdictions in the previous period, but will catch up when state environmental officials compile statistics next month.

Several factors helped boost the county's showing.

One was a Maryland Department of the Environment decision to count trash compost as part of the waste stream.

Waste hauler Browning-Ferris Industries has a contract with the FERST Cos. in Baltimore to compost trash from its commercial trash routes at its plant in Baltimore. The plant processed more than 7,300 tons from Howard County during the second half of 1993, and composted or recycled 67 percent of that.

In all, county recycling officials could account for about 16,500 tons of recycled material from county businesses, as compared with about 12,800 tons from curbside pickup and the county's Mobile Recycling Truck, or MoRT.

The county's recycling effort is also saving money despite disappointing markets for recycled material, Ms. Fields said.

In pickup costs alone, the county saves about $115,000 a year by picking up trash once a week and recyclable materials the second day, as compared with the previous twice-weekly trash collection.

"On the processing side, it costs us $20 a ton to process and market the stuff, as opposed to $60 a ton to put it in the landfill," Ms. Fields said.

The $60 estimate is based on the cost of opening, closing and operating the Alpha Ridge Landfill, divided by the number of tons the facility will hold. That amounts to an annual savings of nearly $1 million, Ms. Fields said.

But although a quarter of the county's trash is being recycled, the remaining 110,000 tons of trash the county produces annually continue to be a problem.

Mr. Ecker has proposed a 10-year solid-waste plan to ship trash out of the county until Baltimore-area jurisdictions work out a regional plan.

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