Washington Co. residents want a 'proactive plan' for recycling

August 23, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Joseph Swope gives his thoughts about recycling options at a public meeting held Tuesday at North Hagerstown High School.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Participants at a Tuesday night meeting on Washington County recycling were divided in their support for curbside recycling versus an expanded drop-box program, but most agreed on one point:

"We need a proactive plan, whatever it is," Hagerstown-area resident Bob Hatch said. "Don't do nothing."

His appeal drew applause from many in the audience of about 40 people who attended the public information meeting in the North Hagerstown High School auditorium.

Although it was not a formal public hearing, the meeting was held to provide information and accept public questions and comment as county officials consider options for future recycling options.

While the city of Hagerstown and some towns offer curbside recycling, the county currently offers only drop-box recycling options. The number of drop-box sites has been cut back dramatically in recent months as host sites have requested their removal due to trash and overflow at the boxes.

Cliff Engle, who heads the county's solid waste department, said at the meeting that the cost of offering those boxes is growing each year and is currently about $147 per ton — nearly three times the operational cost per ton at the landfill. That rising cost for the recycling program is covered by landfill user fees and is not sustainable long term, Engle said.

In addition to solving the funding issue, the county must decide whether to institute a curbside recycling program, Engle said. Such a program would serve a designated area such as the Urban Growth Area and is estimated to cost each household about $6 to $8 per month, he said.

Another option would be to require waste haulers operating in the county to offer a curbside recycling option, which residents could opt to contract privately, Engle said.

To improve the drop-box program, the county could investigate potential manned drop-box facilities on county-owned properties or through partnerships with local businesses or nonprofit organizations, Engle said. Finding agreeable hosts for unmanned drop boxes has been unsuccessful because of recent publicity about the level of abuse at some of the boxes, he said.

Several speakers at the meeting said they had used the boxes that were removed from Hagerstown or Funkstown and wanted to see a new solution. One man who lives near Mount Aetna Road said since the Funkstown bins were removed, his family has been throwing recyclables in the trash.

Many speakers spoke of the consequences of failing to recycle.

Bill Pechumer, a Hagerstown-area resident and the former recycling coordinator for Morgan County, W.Va., said he had calculated that based on the county's population, if every resident threw away one aluminum can per day, that would amount to $1.3 million per year in waste.

Joseph Swope of Boonsboro spoke of the importance of conserving landfill space.

"I really would hate to see another 400- to 500-acre farm go down because we can't get rid of our garbage any other way," he said.

Engle said increased recycling might not have as strong an effect on conserving landfill space as many think. An increase in recycling to 500 pounds per household per year — the average rate in Frederick County, which has curbside recycling — would add only five years to the life of the landfill, he said.

If the curbside program was limited to 10,000 homes, the added life would be only 1.2 years, he said.

"Yes it's a postiive step," Engle said. "It's a very positive step ... but it's not like going 500 pounds a year or even 1,000 pounds a year is going to double the life of the landfill."

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