Sense and disposability Ecker's dragging residents into 21st Century on paying for solid waste.

January 31, 1996

DO YOU leave the faucet running in your sink after you go to sleep? Do you turn off your porch lights in the daytime? Do you keep your car idling for hours on end? No, because a) it's wasteful and b) you would have to pay for it.

Yet when it comes to trash disposal, not enough people think so frugally. The philosophy changes from "waste not, want not" to "out of sight, out of mind." Set in on the curb, let someone take it away. Where to? Who cares?

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker thinks people should care. He's right. Like the examples of fuel consumption above, solid waste is a resource. It can be converted to energy or recycled for reuse. It is also a byproduct that costs money to be rid of, whether by burning, burying or shipping elsewhere.

It is ironic that Mr. Ecker has been struggling in Howard to sell his environmentally friendly program to make people pay separately for -- and think separately about -- trash pick-up. This is the county, after all, where the planned community of Columbia was born in the Age of Aquarius around the symbol of a "peace tree." Where experimentation in education is accepted. Even the increasing conservatism in county politics would seem to align with a Republican county executive's philosophy that people should pay for what they use.

We agree that Mr. Ecker's plan to have countians pay a $125 trash tax makes sense. However, we also think he undercuts his message by including a property tax cut simply to help the medicine go down. Worse still, the impact falls heaviest on middle-class households.

With two landfills closed and one projected to fill up by the year 2008 or so, Howard residents must come to grips with the problem. The county is about to enter a pact with Anne Arundel to ship its trash elsewhere, but that's a morally bankrupt solution and not a long-term one either. Residents recoiled against Mr. Ecker's earlier push for a pay per-bag system, even though it has worked well in many places, from Aberdeen to Seattle. Residents in some other large suburban counties in Maryland -- Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's -- pay an annual fee for trash service.

On solid waste, Howard countians have left the porch light on these many years. The bill has come due.

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