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Washington County Commissioners to set public meeting on curbside recycling

July 12, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County officials want to know where residents stand on curbside recycling.

Tackling the issue in depth for the first time since the new Board of County Commissioners took office in December, the commissioners decided to schedule a public information meeting to accept comment on the idea of starting a county curbside recycling program.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham suggested the meeting, saying she wanted to get a sense of how public opinion breaks down on the issue.

"There's some people that would be adamantly against any mandatory cost or fee or anything that remotely looks like a tax to recycle," Callaham said. "...There are other people that say it's the duty (of the county); it's the right thing to do."

A date for the meeting has not been set, but County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said he thought it could be scheduled for August.

Callaham also called for the commissioners to give themselves a target date for making a decision on curbside recycling.

"The only real sin in government is not making a decision," she said.

Murray said he would like the commissioners to pick a direction by November so whatever approach they select can be incorporated into the budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012.

Currently, the county offers drop boxes for recyclables, while Hagerstown and the towns of Williamsport, Smithsburg and Clear Spring offer curbside recycling pickup. Several companies also offer curbside recycling pickup privately to county residents.

The previous board of commissioners heard several presentations on county curbside recycling options, but took no action.

Based on figures from those presentations, redistributed Tuesday, curbside recycling was estimated to cost between $1 million and $5.6 million per year — or about $57 to $135 per household — in its first year, depending on the scope of the service area and market conditions.

In the second year, the estimated range is $591,000 to $3.5 million, or about $59 to $84 per household.

The drop-box program previously cost the county about $480,000 a year, but with the recent elimination of several boxes, that has dropped to an estimated $251,000, County Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said. That program is funded from landfill fees.

County staff members also recommended that if the county implements curbside recycling, it should partner with RecyleBank, a company that tracks the weight of recyclables collected from each household and rewards points, redeemable for coupons, based on how much is  recycled, said Cliff Engle, deputy director of environmental management, who heads the county's Solid Waste Department.

The commissioners also discussed ongoing issues with the recycling drop-box program.

The program has long been plagued by abuse in which people dump furniture and garbage at the unmanned drop-box sites, and when the bins within the city of Hagerstown were removed on June 1, the abuse spread to remaining bins, Murray said.

The problem prompted the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co. Inc. to request the removal of county recycling bins from their property. They are scheduled to be removed July 15.

County Recycling Coordinator Anthony T. Drury said he had been pursuing locations to add additional bins, without success so far.

The commissioners decided to look into the possibility of paying some organizations hosting bins on their properties to accept additional bins. They also agreed to consider paying those organizations to have someone monitor the bins.

Engle said his department was also planning to remove dividers in the bins to convert them to single-stream recycling, in which all recyclable materials may be mixed together, when the next collection contract begins.

 Currently, the drop boxes are dual-stream, with paper and cardboard accepted in half of the bin and aluminum, glass and plastic in the other.

"Mixing all the materials together helps to fill those spaces in, where cardboard, perhaps, at one end of the container was filling up and the other end was half-full most of the time," Engle said. "We believe (single-stream) will be far more efficient."

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