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Former recycling chief a green giant with big shoes to fill

April 15, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
  • Former Washington County Recycling Coordinator Harvey Hoch stands in front of the residential electronics drop off site, one of the opperations at the recycling center that he oversaw during his last day before retiring from 20 years in the position.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer,

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Newly retired after nearly 20 years as Washington County's recycling coordinator, Smithsburg-area resident Harvey Hoch has not given up his efforts to make the county a greener place.

"That's a lifetime pursuit," said Hoch, who retired at the end of January. "I'll be doing other things -- camping, fishing, etc. -- but there are certain values that I'll continue to work for."

Hoch volunteers as a truck driver for Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, which accepts donations of surplus and gently used building materials, and resells them to help fund Habitat's home-construction efforts. He also serves on the steering committee for the local ReStore and hopes to serve on the Boonsboro Recycling Task Force committee that organizes an annual Green Fest.

Those efforts come naturally to Hoch, who spent two decades promoting recycling and waste reduction in the county through landfill tours and presentations to businesses, schools and community groups.

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Hoch was hired for the position in July 1990 after responding to an advertisement for the job in the classifieds. He realized it was a good match for his interest in the environment and his background as a science teacher.

At that time, the county had just begun to experiment with offering recycling collection sites, Hoch said.

"There was a little pilot program where we had a pickup truck and a trailer that we'd drop off in the communities on weekends and pick it up each Monday," he said.

In those days, Hoch said, many people with whom he spoke were not recycling at all, so he encouraged them to start simple, taking small steps like saving their newspapers for recycling. Others were frustrated that the county was not doing more with recycling, he said.

Soon after Hoch took the job, the county put a recycling contract out for bid and installed recycling drop-off boxes throughout the county. That drop-box program remains the county's primary recycling program today, but its use has increased dramatically since those early years, Hoch said.

"In the early days ... if we had a few pickup loads of materials, that was pretty good," he said.

When the drop-box program began, the county's Maryland Recycling Act recycling rate -- the percentage of certain discarded materials that are recycled -- was about 6 percent, Hoch said. By 1992, that rate had increased to 13 percent, and by 2007 it was 35.5 percent, the county's Solid Waste Management and Recycling Plan shows. The county has set a goal to bring that rate to 50 percent by 2020.

To reach that goal, Hoch said he thinks the county will need to move beyond drop boxes and begin a curbside recycling program.

"My personal opinion is it's overdue," he said.

He said use of the drop-box program has expanded to the point where the contractor cannot keep up with the demand for collections.

"For example, during the Christmas holidays, we were emptying at least once per day, sometimes twice per day," he said. "That's a lot to expect of a trucking industry."

County staff presented information March 2 about a potential incentivized curbside recycling program that would cost households $57 to $75 a year, but the Washington County Commissioners said they were not sold on the money-saving benefits of such a program.

Hoch said recycling is not a money-saving or profit-generating endeavor, but a way of managing waste in an environmentally responsible way.

"It's about not creating an environmental debt for the next generation of folks," he said.

Hoch said the accomplishment he was most proud of during his time as recycling coordinator was an ordinance the Washington County Commissioners passed in 1995, at his recommendation, banning yard debris from the county landfill.

Before the ban, yard debris made up 9 percent to 12 percent of what was going into the landfill, Hoch said.

"I had pictures of places where there were 30 bags of leaves going out with the regular trash to be picked up," he said.

After the ban was enacted, the county's phones rang off the hook with complaints from people used to the ease of putting their leaves and grass at the curb, but eventually residents adapted to alternatives such as using mulching mowers, composting at home or taking their yard debris to the county's composting area, Hoch said.

"People have learned that you just do things differently," he said.

Hoch has also been an advocate for manufacturer-led and retailer-led recycling and waste-reduction efforts, such as Best Buy's electronics recycling program.

"It really needs to work all the way from the top to the bottom," he said.

Clifford J. Engle, who heads the county's solid waste department, said Hoch has a gift for relating to the public.

"With many of these topics, it's very easy to talk over somebody's head or lose the audience, and he did an excellent job of not allowing that to happen," he said.

Engle said he planned to seek authorization from the Washington County Commissioners to advertise an opening for a new recycling coordinator.

"They're big shoes to fill," Engle said. "We're hoping to find somebody that has the energy and the commitment to the recycling area, and the county's goals that he had."

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