New trash options sought

Counties push to recycle as disposal contracts near end

December 24, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Efforts to boost recycling collections are getting extra emphasis in Howard and Anne Arundel counties as officials contemplate the looming end of their bargain-price trash disposal contracts.

Both jurisdictions have shipped most of their residential trash by train from Annapolis Junction on their common border to a private commercial landfill in Virginia for $33 a ton since the mid-1990s. That contract with Waste Management Inc. will expire in five years, and the cost of any new agreement is expected to more than double.

"Fees are going to go up, one way or another," said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. "People believe they could triple,"

Other than increasing recycling to cut the flow of trash, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said he has no firm plans yet.

"We don't have anything on the front burner. I'm open to any constructive ideas," he said.

Ulman said he's "personally fascinated" that Howard is home to a large private recycling center on Kit Kat Road off U.S. 1 in Elkridge.

Noting that lots of paper, plastic and glass is mixed with garbage headed for the Annapolis Junction trash transfer facility, "you just want to go in there and grab it and take it up to [the recycling center on] Route 1," he said.

Howard recently distributed nearly 5,000 larger, wheeled recycling carts to homes in a pilot program to encourage recycling. If residents respond with increased recycling, Ulman hopes to expand the cart program to more homes.

So far, said Evelyn Tomlin, Howard's bureau chief for environmental services, the signs are good.

"We were hoping for a 15 percent increase in tonnage. We're seeing an 18 percent increase" after three months, she said.

Andrew Diltz, 35, of Ellicott City said his wife, Laura, and their two small children are enthusiastic about the new, larger carts. "It's been great since we got it," he said.

Before, he said, they used two separate bins - one for paper and the other for plastic and glass.

"Now you don't have to split up what goes in it. You just open up the lid and dump it in," Diltz said. He washes items like plastic food containers and recycles them, instead of throwing them in the trash, he said.

Leopold said he funded two new positions this year to boost the number of recycling workers to half that of the residential waste staff. He also plans a County Council bill to push commercial firms to recycle more.

"We want to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill," he said.

Tracie Reynolds, spokeswoman for Anne Arundel's Public Works Department, said the county gave residents larger recycling tubs and adopted single-stream recycling, which allows mixing all materials together.

As for negotiating a new contract with Waste Management, "we'll probably revisit that as it gets closer," she said.

Both counties have space left in their respective landfills, but officials know that when they are filled, chances will be slim for finding sites for new operations.

"We don't have 500 acres anywhere that we could site a landfill," Reynolds said.

Other counties are contemplating waste-to-energy incinerators like those already operating in Baltimore, Montgomery County and Harford County, but James M. Irvin, Howard's public works director, said there's no likely site for one in the county.

"There's a lot of talk, but no specific proposals" in Howard, Irvin said. Locating such a plant at the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill, for example, would place it too far from energy customers, he said.

Still, the idea of transforming waste to energy is attractive, said Robin Davidov, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, which helps local governments dispose of trash.

Davidov said she attended two days of hearings this month in Frederick County, where officials are considering combining with Carroll County to build a trash incinerator.

"I think people are coming to understand that these are a renewable energy source," she said of waste-to-energy plants. "We don't have adequate supplies of electricity." Burning trash is cleaner than coal, sustainable and renewable, she said.

"I can tell you there are industries leaving Maryland because the price of energy is too high," she said, so any new source of electricity or steam power would be welcome.

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