Trash travels out of state

Suburban counties save landfills, send refuse to Va. and Pa.

Suburbia's trash travels to Va. landfill

May 20, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

When Wylene Burch deposits her family's garbage outside her Howard County home each week, she barely gives it a second thought. "I thought it goes to the [Howard County] landfill," Burch said. "I'm so glad they do pick it up!"

But, truth be told, virtually none of the trash collected from Howard's tidy suburban streets is headed for a local landfill or incinerator. Instead, the pickup is the first step in a 100-mile journey to a remote corner of eastern Virginia.

Each night around midnight, about 325 tons of Howard's garbage is sent south from an Annapolis Junction transfer station across the Potomac River on a special train - tightly sealed in custom-built hopper cars - to a 630-acre landfill opened in 1996 by King George County, Va., and operated by a huge national company called Waste Management Inc.

Howard is not alone. Maryland has become a major trash exporter as counties from Carroll to Montgomery seek ways - beyond recycling - to painlessly shed their messy burden. About 80 percent of Anne Arundel's refuse goes to the same eastern Virginia destination.

The goal is to save precious space in local public landfills and avoid the political nightmare of having to build facilities in an era when day care centers and public parks often spark controversy. Most officials say deals with megalandfills are a bargain, compared with developing new landfills in their home counties.

"It is a trend because these big waste companies have since 1995 built big landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania. You can run a huge landfill cheaper than a local one" because of economies of scale, said Robin Davidov, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Trash Authority.

The authority contracts with private firms on behalf of several area counties. The large private landfills also are better equipped for environmental protection, she said. "They have all the [environmental] bells and whistles, and are more closely scrutinized. I think that's good," she said.

The idea of dumping trash in someone else's back yard isn't always appealing, some say, but it's too good a deal to pass up.

"I'm not happy sending our garbage to someone else," Howard County Executive James N. Robey said last week, "but [the Virginia landfill] was built for that purpose. Still, we ought to deal with our own. At least it's not on a barge sailing up and down the East Coast," he said.

Landfill life extended

"We're able to save our landfill," Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said last week, referring to his county's Eastern Solid Waste Processing facility off Pulaski Highway, which will be good for an estimated 40 more years.

Baltimore County sends 75 percent of the 400,000 tons of trash discarded each year to out-of-state landfills via Waste Management trucks, and 89,000 tons to the Baltimore Refuse to Energy System Co., Baltimore City's waste-to-energy plant near the downtown stadiums. BRESCO consumes up to 2,250 tons of refuse a day, including all the city's trash, and produces steam and electricity.

Only 5 percent of Baltimore County's trash is buried in its landfill, said Charles K. Weiss, chief of the county's Bureau of Solid Waste Management.

"Replacement of landfill space is more expensive that what we're doing," said Fred Homan, Baltimore County's budget director. "This ability to use out-of-state landfills is a window."

Robey noted that Howard County had to spend $20 million to cap its old Alpha Ridge landfill, not to mention the expense of running water pipes to homes nearby that were threatened with ground-water pollution.

By taking in only about 8,500 tons a year of mainly commercial trash, the county's landfill in West Friendship should last until 2050 and beyond, according to John O'Hara, Howard's chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services.

Howard delivers about 97,000 tons a year to the Annapolis Junction trash transfer station, near Route 32 on the Howard County-Anne Arundel County line. The facility is owned and operated by Waste Management Inc.

Anne Arundel County sends 114,000 tons a year to the transfer station, said county spokesman John Morris. About 20,000 tons a year are taken to the Millersville landfill. Next year, the county plans to send all its residential trash to the transfer station, Morris said.

Montgomery, Harford and Carroll counties truck their trash to waste-to-energy plants, burying very little.

Montgomery County burns 1,800 tons of trash per day at an in-county waste-to-energy plant, said Davidov. Her regional authority acts as a clearinghouse for trash disposal contracts, energy plant development and recycling strategies.

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