December 18, 2003

The Recycling Public Advisory Council has asked the Delaware Solid Waste Authority to do "some serious thinking" about putting a facility to process a large volume of recyclable residential waste in place by the end of 2005.

That date would coincide with the beginning of a statewide mandatory recycling program envisioned in legislation being prepared by state Senator David McBride for introduction into the General Assembly after it reconvenes in January.

Meanwhile, at least one and possibly two firms which compost lawn waste in other state are seeking to establish such an operation in Delaware. Their presence would enable the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control to follow through with imposing a ban on dumping grass, leaves and the like in any of the waste authority's landfills.

Chairman Paul Wilkinson proposed at a meeting on Dec. 17 that the gubernatorial council demonstrate its seriousness in furthering its long-talked-about goal of having Delaware join other state and local jurisdictions around the nation which require householders to recycle paper, plastic, metal and other material by urging the providing of the wherewithal to have that happen here.

"We can't have [mandatory] curbside recycling without a 'murf' and we can't have a 'murf' without curbside recycling," he said. 'Murf' is an acronym for 'municipal urban recycling facility'.

A subsequent resolution approved unanimously by the council calls on the waste authority to begin planning for such a facility initially capable of processing 30,000 tons annually of recyclable material brought to it in mixed batches of different materials.

It is not clear how much weight the request will carry with the largely autonomous waste authority. Pat Canzano, its chief operating officer, who also is a member of the recycling council, did not raise any objections, but did reiterate that the authority's position is that any program or service it provides must pay for itself. Although a quasipublic agency, the authority receives no public money.

When it came time to vote, Canzano abstained on conflict-of-interest grounds.

Before Wilkinson raised the point, the council received a memorandum summarizing McBride's current thinking about the legislation he previously said he will introduce. The lawmaker was not present at the meeting and the council went no further than a general discussion of his approach.

McBride's idea is to require mandatory recycling of at least one material designated by the waste authority as recyclable by Jan. 1, 2006. By Jan. 1, 2008, at least three materials would have to be recycled and, by Jan. 1, 2010, the law would apply to at least half of all materials designated as recyclable. After that, the authority, at its discretion, could add additional materials to the list.

Although the law would apply statewide, it would put the responsibility for implementing -- and, presumably, maintaining -- curbside recycling programs upon each of the three counties and all incorporated municipalities.

There is no mention in the summary of how recycling programs would be financed nor how participation would be enforced. Steve Masterson, of Waste Management, noted that it appears to leave it up to each jurisdiction what material would have to be recycled. He said that would "be a nightmare" for refuse-collecting firms which operate in several jurisdictions.

McBride's summary includes a provision for each county to "implement a program to increase the composing of organic waste material" by Jan. 1, 2005, and to come up with "a system of grants, loans, tax incentives and other means to encourage the development of private interests for the end-uiser market for recycled materials."

That appears to overlap the natural resources department's effort, which currently leans in the direction of using its regulatory authority to simply ban dumping yard waste in the landfills.

Michael O'Connor, founder and president of Manassas, Va.-based Prism Group, told the council that he operates a profitable commercial composing business under contract with Prince William County, Va. It processes and resells 60,000 tons of grass and leaves a year collected there and in neighboring Fairfax County.

"We're able to move [the finished products] easily and probably could [sell] three times what we're now doing," he said. Until now, the company, a successor to one which O'Connor formed in 1996, has sold in bulk. Next year it plans to begin packaging the product for sale at retail as well.

One ton of yard trimmings, he said, yields 1.86 cubic yards of enriched topsoil, 0.25 yard of compost or 0.71 cubic yard of mulch

He said his firm would be interested in a similar 'public-private' arrangement with the Delaware natural resources department or other government entity. As a business venture, it would 'break even' if it handled a volume of somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 tons a year, he said.

He said the Prism process does not generate noxious odors, a common complaint with composting. Both of its processing sites are out of doors.

The natural resources department also is talking with McGill Environmental Systems, which has composting operations in North Carolina and Ireland and is interested in locating in Kent or Sussex County, the council was told.

As part of an effort to promote recycling generally and particularly the recycling of electronic equipment, the department has hired Aloysius Butler & Clark, a Wilmington advertising firm, to conduct a newspaper publicity campaign.

Canzano cautioned that that and other efforts to drum up support "should play down the notion that [recycling] is free."

"One of the basic overriding premises is that it's not going to be subsidized; people are going to have to pay for it," he said. Creating a contrary impression "is going to come back and hunt us."

2003. All rights reserved.

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