Trash pickup idea is floated Ecker wants to test 'pay-by-the-pound,' high-tech method

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

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

Aimed at promoting recycling, the program, 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 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 who save on their power bills by flipping off the lights.

The county envisions starting a pilot program involving several hundred homes, perhaps within six months.

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

Homeowners would be given 40-gallon, wheeled containers with lTC 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 weights would be automatically stored on 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.

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

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

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

The rest of the council laughed. But later Mr. Gray said he had serious questions about the idea.

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 take 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 closing its last remaining open landfill.

Another council member, Mary C. Lorsung, who represents West Columbia, said some of her more environmentally conscious constituents would welcome a chance to try the pay-per-pound program.

"They're enlightened people," she said during the meeting.

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

If Howard adopted the concept countywide, residents who recycle a lot and who produce little garbage might end up paying less than $125 a year for trash collection.

Mr. Ecker's plan to test the pay-by-the-pound program was applauded by John Hollerbach, chairman of Mr. Ecker's 1995 Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board.

"I'm delighted," said Mr. Hollerbach, who criticized Mr. Ecker's limit of four 30-gallon containers a week, saying that relatively high limit would not encourage recycling for the average Howard household, which produces three containers of garbage per week.

"It does nothing to discourage the generation of trash," he said.

The pay-as-you-throw program is used in two communities in Maryland, Chevy Chase and Aberdeen, both of which charge residents by the bag, not the pound.

Officials in both communities say the programs are working well.

Jim Litke, Aberdeen's recycling coordinator, said that over the past two years, the pay-as-you-throw system had resulted in doubling the amount of recycling, one of Howard County's main goals in setting trash limits.

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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