June  3, 2004

Legislation to require the Delaware Solid Waste Authority to develop a program to double the state's recycling rate by 2007 was declared dead, but the authority's lawyer said he is drafting a more comprehensive measure to bring about compulsory recycling to put before the General Assembly next year.

"I don't have the votes," state Senator David McBride told Delaforum after the natural resources committee which he chairs deadlocked two-to-two on a vote to bring the goal-setting measure he sponsored to the floor. It requires three votes to report a bill out of the five-member committee.

Even if he had won the preliminary vote, he acknowledged, he has run out of time to put a law on the books this year. Senate approval would be by no means certain and the House of Representatives appears even less likely to go along. McBride's measure is not on Governor Ruth Ann Minner's legislative wish list.

The waste authority opposed enactment during the committee hearing on June 2.

"The authority doesn't have the resources. ... There is no way the authority can do this," Michael

Parkowski testified. He was referring to what he described as "an unfunded mandate" to increase the residential recycling rate to 30% and commercial and other recycling to 50% in three years. The measure, he pointed out, provides neither money nor enforcement power.

Earlier in the day, however, Parkowski, the authority's general counsel, told the Recycling Public Advisory Council that draft legislation is nearly finished that will accomplish the goal or something close to it. And, he said, McBride is at the front of a queue of state lawmakers already lining up to sponsor it.

"This is for real," Parkowski said. "A lot of people are skeptical, [but] the authority will do what is necessary to sell it."

At McBride's committee hearing, representatives of the League of Women Voters, Green Delaware and the Delaware Nature Society testified in favor of enactment of his legislation, primarily for its value as a 'first step' toward implementation of effective statewide mandatory recycling. Both John Hughes,

Voluntary program growing

Delaware Solid Waste Authority expects to begin extending its fee-based recyclables collection program beyond Brandywine Hundred and Newark by the end of summer, according to Rich von Stetten, manager of recycling.

It is investing in two $95,000 trucks and hiring six full-time drivers in order to do so, he said.

There presently are 1,400 customers, who pay $6 a month for the service. The goal is to eventually sign up 10,000 participants throughout New Castle County.

The authority's recycling operations budget totals $4 million, but Von Stetten said he could not say how much of that is earmarked for the collection program.

But, he said, "we're definitely serious about this."

secretary of natural resources and environmental control, and Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the advisory council, also endorsed the measure.

The more extensive draft legislation new being prepared will be the key component in a report the authority is producing under an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and the gubernatorial advisory council to conduct a definitive study of the feasibility of mandatory recycling and how to administer it.

The report is now expected to be completed by August, about two months behind the original schedule. It will be subject to three or four public hearings, probably in September and early October, before being put into final form for presentation to the governor and the legislature.

Parkowski said the draft legislation, based on the experience of various jurisdictions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is further along and its general approach is tentatively set.

Residents would be required to separate recyclable material from other household trash and set it out, probably on a weekly basis, for pickup. Recyclables would be collected by either public works departments in municipalities or refuse-hauling companies under contract. The companies would have exclusive collection rights for that material in defined districts, but would continue to operate in competition with each other as regards collection of garbage and non-recyclable trash.

Although the haulers would be able to sell recyclables where they could, the authority would provide a backup for their disposal. Going on the assumption that volatile secondary markets cannot be counted upon to provide steady revenue to finance the operation nor ever to cover its full cost, residents would be required to pay for the service.

Preference in that regard, Parkowski said, would be to include that cost as part of county property tax. That would be the most efficient way to collect the money while making it a 'hidden' charge but one that is subsidized as a deduction against federal and state income tax, he explained.

The cost is likely to amount to something in the range of $75 to $100 a year, he said. The typical middle class household generates about 25 lbs. of recyclable trash a week.

Parkowski cautioned that the plan is almost certain to be controversial. Residents who are not among the admitted minority of recycling enthusiasts are not likely to relish having to pay and smaller hauling companies traditionally oppose having exclusive districts, which they see as a threat to survival of their businesses.

Two companies, B.F.I. and Waste Management, account for 75% of the market in areas in Delaware where trash hauling is private enterprise. Two other companies, Independent Disposal Service and Tri-State Waste, make up the second tier of the business with 31 small, mostly family-owned firms handling the rest.

Enforcement remains a somewhat ill-defined component of mandatory recycling, even in jurisdictions where there are programs which are considered to be successful, the advisory council was told. The most effective methods seem to be education and persuasive tactics, such as haulers leaving unseparated trash uncollected, with fines reserved for conspicuous and repeat violators.

"Nobody wants to have a trash Gestapo," Parkowski said. But he added that a reasonable middle ground has to be employed "if we don't want to see more stuff dumped by the side of the road or in the woods than we have now."

2004. All rights reserved.

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