Hagerstown residents adjust after county removes recycling bins

June 27, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Some people accustomed to public recycling in Hagerstown have had to change their routines.

At the beginning of June, Washington County removed seven large recycling bins from four public parking lots within the city. As a result, bins at several other public places in the county have been used more often.

The bins in Hagerstown were considered a drain on the county and a blight for the city, but were convenient for people who regularly used them to recycle plastic, glass and paper products.

When Sandy Anderson, who lives near Funkstown, drove to a few spots in Hagerstown looking for bins and saw they were gone, she ended up at a bin outside the Funkstown fire hall.

Anderson said she’ll drive to Funkstown instead of Dual Highway to recycle, but “I’m not happy about it.”

At about the same time, Ashley Tracey, who lives in the Long Meadow area, went on the same search in Hagerstown. She was disappointed those bins were gone, but was glad she wouldn’t have to travel far to keep recycling.

During a phone interview, Donna Staggers, who lives off Jefferson Boulevard, said she’s been recycling for at least 20 years and frequently used the bin in a Dual Highway parking lot.

“I am serious about it,” she said.

With four cats, she figures she goes through close to 1,500 food cans a year. She also uses large water jugs and has a newspaper delivered every day.

She, too, will migrate to the Funkstown drop-off spot.

Anthony T. Drury, the county’s recycling coordinator, said the county initially got 15 to 20 calls a day from people questioning why the bins in Hagerstown were removed.

The answers: money and rules.

Clifford J. Engle, who heads the county’s Solid Waste Department, told the Washington County Commissioners at a recent meeting that the county’s recycling program costs more than $700,000.

“The biggest portion of that is the drop-box program,” he said.

“With no dedicated revenue stream,” County Administrator Gregory B. Murray chimed in, referring to the fact that no one pays to use the public recycling bins.

The county has estimated the savings of removing the seven city bins at $200,000, helping the county to cut into a $1 million deficit in its solid-waste program.

Engle said the $200,000 is based on the projected number of times the city bins would have been “pulled,” or emptied, in fiscal year 2012. It costs about $166 each time the county asks for a recycling bin to be emptied, he said.

Even though some people were loyal users, “we have to be financially prudent,” Engle said.

Officials in Hagerstown, which has its own curbside recycling program, have spoken out against the illegal dumping on the ground around the bins that were in the city.

Drury said there were many instances of people illegally leaving furniture, mattresses and even deer carcasses at the recycling bins, despite the possibility of fines or jail time.

Rodney Tissue, Hagerstown’s city engineer, said the county either had to find a way to stop the illegal dumping or had to move the bins.

“I think it’s a shame that people abused it,” he said.

When bins were removed from Hagerstown, bin use in Funkstown and Maugansville rose. Drury said those bins were emptied once or twice a day to keep up and were on pace to be emptied 35 or 40 times in June, out of a possible 26 days.

Other county bins are in Boonsboro, Keedysville, Sharpsburg, Smithsburg and Clear Spring.

Asked why the county doesn’t remove all of its public bins to save more money, Engle said Maryland regulations require a minimum level of recycling.

Jurisdictions with more than 150,000 people must recycle at least 20 percent or more of their waste, according to a Maryland Department of the Environment report on waste diversion.

Engle said Washington County was at 29.68 percent for recycling in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, and 30.68 percent for diversion, which includes the reuse of some materials that aren’t recyclable.

The county’s goal is to reach 50 percent diversion within 10 years, Engle said.

The previous Washington County Commissioners heard plans for curbside recycling, but didn’t pursue them.

One program the commissioners looked at seriously was RecycleBank, estimated to cost each household $57 to $75 a year. Households could get reward coupons based on their recycling volume.

Still, “there’s just a lot of residents that don’t want that tax imposed on them,” Drury said.

Residents also can hire private haulers to collect their recyclables.

While he was a Washington County commissioner, curbside recycling was one of Kristin B. Aleshire’s pet causes.

Aleshire, a former Hagerstown councilman, also wanted the city’s voluntary curbside recycling to be more comprehensive, which he said would save money and increase participation.

But Aleshire agreed it made little sense for the county to have most of its public recycling bins in Hagerstown.

“Something had to be done to address the eyesore,” he said.

Washington County and Hagerstown plan to go to bid soon for new recycling contracts. Officials from both said single-stream recycling, in which all recyclables are grouped together, might be considered.

Williamsport offers curbside recycling; Smithsburg and Clear Spring are about to start. A task force in Boonsboro has helped promote and increase recycling there.

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