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Time is now for Washington County to offer curbside recycling

June 29, 2011

Over the past several years, few issues have caused more outbreaks of hives among local officials than recycling.

While Hagerstown and Williamsport offer curbside recycling, and Smithsburg and Clear Spring will begin offering the service in July, the remaining jurisdictions — including Washington County — are spinning their wheels, if they’re trying at all.

And every step forward meets with a corresponding regression.

Most recently, county representatives decided to remove recycling bins from four locations in Hagerstown, a move the city requested. The removal is justifiable on its face, but points to serious flaws in local recycling policy.

The familiar bins, managed by the county, allowed anyone to dump glass, plastics and papers. The problem was that the bins often overflowed, and often overflowed not with recyclables, but with everything from household garbage to broken furniture and even a deer carcass.

The city was understandably irked by the mess, and the county was understandably irked by the cost — $166 each time a bin needed to be emptied.

But the bins were popular, and despite anecdotal stories of decaying deer, many people who care about the earth were putting them to good use. It seems a shame that the city and county couldn’t have come up with some other solution, such as securing the bins with fencing overnight or using cameras to catch scofflaws.

The real solution, of course, would be for Washington County to join modern society and enact curbside recycling so that its residents wouldn’t have to burn fossil fuel in order to access a handful of widely scattered bins remaining in the county.

Washington County has fought curbside recycling like some communities of old fought fluoride in drinking water. And while we understand there are viable concerns about the cost-effectiveness and even the environmental effectiveness of recycling, we believe the preponderance of the evidence supports curbside pick-up.

On two fronts there can be no debate: Recycling saves raw materials and recycling saves highly valuable landfill space. The nickel, or less, per day that curbside recycling would cost is largely mitigated by the tax money that would be required to open new landfill cells.

Critics who suggest that recycling technologies are less than perfect are correct. But it is also correct to assume that these technologies will be perfected in time. If we had waited around until automobile technology was perfected before buying cars, a lot of horses would still have been in use through World War II.

The sensible and bottom-line position holds that reusing manufactured materials is preferable to burying them in the ground. That is true today and it will be all the more true tomorrow. Rather than arguing over details, it is time for Washington County to join the great number of communities across the nation with a curbside recycling program of its own.

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