Waste Disposal in the 21st Century

June 20, 1994

Howard County's waste disposal plan, which the County Council approved this month, isn't exactly marching orders to solve the county's garbage problems into the next century. Rather, it is a broad outline of possibilities the county can pursue, each heavily dependent on the other.

The plan assumes that at some point, not made clear in the document, people will either want to or be forced to deal with the mounting waste dilemma. This may be the most formidable obstacle of all; the traditional methods of waste disposal -- landfills and incineration -- have been found wanting, yet public opinion hasn't embraced any of the available options that lie ahead.

The Howard plan commits the county to pursue a regional approach to disposal. This is the way to go. The plan makes it clear that officials are looking to some other Baltimore area jurisdiction to site an incinerator. What Howard's role would be in a regional approach to waste disposal remains unclear, however.

For the moment, Howard County's priority is to consider the possibility of exporting large amounts of its trash out of state. This is not the way to go.

In doing so, the Howard plan cites a proposed Browning Ferris Industries transfer station in the county, where trash could be dumped before being hauled elsewhere. Browning Ferris has no contract with Howard County to provide such a service yet, but county Councilman Darrel Drown raised questions about the company's name being included in the plan, as well as the plan's emphasis on trash exportation as a solution to the growing solid waste problem.

The fact is that any company's facility that might one day be used as an option for waste disposal must be included, by name, in the county's plan. Future companies that step forward with alternative facilities for Howard County will go through the same process to be added to the list of available options.

Furthermore, absent a willingness to step forward and participate in the incinerator debate, Howard County is in no position to be so general about its intentions. That would only leave the impression it intends to avoid ever making a decision, which is not an option.

The short-term course the council has charted is to look to trash exportation, an irresponsible alternative. For the long run, the county must aggressively pursue, not simply await, the evolution of a regional solution.

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