Per-bag trash fee is urged

September 03, 1995|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard County trash-financing panel has recommended that the county begin charging residents for each bag of trash collected -- setting the stage for Howard to become the first county in the state to follow the latest national trend in reducing waste.

In a report delivered Friday to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the county's Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board recommends that the county charge each county household $100 a year, beginning in July, for once-a-week trash pickup.

As of January 1997, the report recommends, the county should pick up only a single 30-gallon bag per week for the $100 annual fee and begin charging $1.50 for each additional 30-gallon bag or 75 cents for each 13-gallon "kitchen can" bag.

Howard residents who don't get curbside trash pickup, such as apartment dwellers, would be charged a flat annual fee of $85 for any amount of trash.

The county would sell stickers at retail stores and government offices to put on trash bags as proof of payment, according to the panel's proposal.

Howard would not charge for picking up residents' trash under its recycling program, and the county's goal in inaugurating trash fees would be to increase recycling.

"It's a good report and I like the concept, particularly the incentive to get people to recycle," Mr. Ecker said after receiving the report in a closed-door meeting with members of the trash board.

County homes and businesses divert about 30 percent of their waste into county government and private recycling programs. State law requires 20 percent, and Mr. Ecker said Howard is capable of a 50 percent recycling rate.

The trash-financing board -- whose members come from business, government, activists representing landfill neighbors and a county taxpayer advocacy group -- was unanimous in its recommendations, said Chairman Jack Hollerbach. Mr. Ecker and the board plan to announce the report's recommendations at a news conference Tuesday morning.

The main problem faced by the board was how the county can meet its skyrocketing trash costs. The report says that between this fiscal year and 2005, the county's annual waste-management costs will rise from $8.6 million to $25.7 million.

Most of that $17 million increase will come from the cost of shipping the county's trash out of the region, which is to begin in January 1997.

About $3 million of the increase will service the debt on $42.4 million worth of work needed to clean up and to prevent pollution at the county's three landfills -- in Marriottsville, Woodbine and Ellicott City.

The board recommends that those environmental costs be paid out of the county's general fund, which is fed mainly by property and income taxes. Future trash pickup and disposal services, however, would be funded from the proposed annual and per-bag fees -- with the county's trash recycling program financed by county general funds.

"The easy way out is to do like Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties and charge a flat $200 a year," Mr. Hollerbach said. Charging by amount of trash, he said, will reduce the county's waste and save on trash-hauling and disposal costs.

The only other jurisdiction in Maryland that charges by the

amount of trash is Aberdeen in Harford County. Its residents buy stickers at 80 cents for a 30-gallon bag and 40 cents for a 13-gallon bag. The money pays only for landfill disposal -- not collection, for which there is no charge.

In most of the state's large suburban counties -- Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's -- residents pay an annual fee of as much as $200 for trash service. Trash collection and disposal in those counties is self-supporting and doesn't use income and property tax revenue as Howard's current trash service does.

"I think it's a great example to set for the rest of the state," said Daniel L. Jerrems, chairman of the Baltimore Recycling Coalition. "It will definitely encourage recycling, and, almost as importantly, it will encourage waste reduction."

Mr. Jerrems noted that Seattle, with the country's largest volume-based trash-fee program, "saw regular trash drop in half almost immediately. People started paying a lot more attention to what they brought into their home, and they started being more careful consumers in the amount of packaging they were bringing into their home."

Among the drawbacks to the trash-fee idea is that some residents may try to evade paying by dumping garbage illegally. To combat that, the board recommended that county police aggressively enforce existing state litter control laws.

Other areas that have instituted volume-based trash fees have seen some increase in illegal dumping, said Brenda A. Platt, director of materials recovery for the nonprofit Institute for local Self-Reliance in Washington, which promotes recycling and waste reduction by offering technical assistance to local governments and businesses.

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