Beyond the trash fee With landfill space dwindling, new levy is but a stopgap solution.

July 30, 1996

JULY DIDN'T JUST bring sweet corn and lazy days by the pool to Howard County. It also brought a new $125-a-year garbage collection fee.

The fee makes sense, and not just because of the $8.1 million in revenue it will produce. Howard is running out of landfill space and will have to pay to haul its trash to some other location. The fee, and an accompanying four-can limit on the number of trash receptacles per household, are intended to change behavior. People are expected to pay more attention to what and how much they throw away.

That does not mean the garbage fee is without shortcomings. It is regressive, making no distinction between the poor and the rich. However, the county will offer financial assistance to low-income families.

The new trash fee also does not take into consideration the amount of trash generated. It is the same $125 whether a family always reaches its limit of four cans per week or never disposes of that much trash. Also, there are no safeguards to prevent someone from putting an extra trash can in front of someone else's home.

The fee might best be considered a temporary measure while county officials determine whether they can feasibly begin a collection program that charges by weight. They hope to begin a pilot program by next year to tell them whether that is possible. One concept includes a 40-gallon, wheeled container with bar codes or radio-frequency devices. Using automatic lifts, scales and scanning devices, workers would empty the containers into garbage trucks. The weights would be fed to a computer and residents subsequently billed, just like their water bills.

Charging by weight should satisfy environmentalists, who rightly point out that additional recycling is not encouraged by the four-can limit. Officials admit that this is one can of trash more than the typical single-family household puts out on a normal day now. The average Howard household puts 47 pounds of garbage in those three cans. The County Council says its goal is to reduce that to 34 pounds, with no limit on recyclables.

The groans over this fee will continue for a while. But residents should see it as a first step -- and let officials know they expect a fairer and more environmentally sound solution.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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