High-tech 'pay-by-the-pound' system for trash pickup proposed in Howard Ecker wants a community to volunteer to test it

April 16, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who already has proposed annual trash fees and stricter weekly limits on trash pickups, said yesterday that he wants to test an even more stringent "pay-by-the-pound" policy in part of the county.

The proposal -- aimed at promoting recycling, which would remain free to residents -- has been tested in a handful of communities nationwide, national trash experts said yesterday.

Pay-by-the-pound collection uses the latest technology, such as identification tags affixed to garbage bins that emit a radio frequency.

"It's definitely the cutting edge," said Jan Canterbury, the federal Environment Protection Agency's expert on weight-based garbage collection.

The idea rewards those who produce the least garbage, much as people save on their power bills by flipping off the lights.

Although details are sketchy, here is how the pay-by-the-pound concept could work in Howard:

Homeowners would be given large, 40-gallon, wheeled containers with bar codes or radio-frequency devices on them. Once a week, they would wheel them to the curb.

Using automatic lifts, scales and scanning devices, workers would empty the containers into garbage trucks. The weight of each container would be automatically stored in a computer.

Residents would be billed along with their water bills.

Officials are unsure how well the concept would work in townhouses, where residents share collection areas. But they say it probably would work better than "pay-as-you-throw" policies that charge people by the container.

The bar codes or frequency devices would better track whose garbage is whose, they explained.

Howard County officials said yesterday that the program could begin within six months.

But they have not worked out the details of the pilot program and have not identified a test community.

"We're looking for volunteers," Mr. Ecker said while briefing the County Council yesterday on garbage issues.

Councilman V. Vernon Gray, who represents the 2nd District in East Columbia, replied, "You can stay out of the 2nd District."

He said many of his constituents already are unhappy with Mr. Ecker's four-container-a-week trash pickup limit -- part of a new trash proposal that also involves an annual trash pickup fee of $125 per household. That plan, which has not been approved by the County Council, is scheduled to start July 1.

The county is taking the steps to limit solid-waste generation by residents in an effort to stem the mounting costs of trash disposal. Next year, the county is scheduled to begin the costly practice of shipping its trash out of the county for disposal and to close its last remaining open landfill.

The county probably will test the pay-by-the-pound program in a neighborhood of single-family homes with 300 to 1,000 households, said John O'Hara, head of county waste management.

If Howard adopts the program countywide, residents who recycle a lot and who produce little garbage might pay less than $125 a year for trash collection.

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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