September 9, 2004

Having come up with a broad-brush version of what a mandatory recycling program should look like, the Recycling Public Advisory Council is about ready to ask the public what it thinks.

Using refined elements of an extensive report prepared by the Delaware Solid Waste Authority under an agreement with the council and the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, the gubernatorial panel will take the lead in conducting at least three, and possibly, five public workshops in October, according to Paul Wilkinson, its chairman.

"We need to make it clear that these are not [waste authority] workshops," he said. The proposal to be presented for reaction and comment will reflect the thinking of a group which reflects a cross-section of interests, he explained, adding, "We represent the public."

It is expected that the meetings will take place in October at central locations in each of the three counties and probably also in the cities of Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach. Specific dates and venues have not yet been determined.

After those sessions, the council will reconvene to produce a final report for the governor and General Assembly as well as a draft of legislation to implement the program. At present, the thinking is that it will be enacted during the coming session of the Assembly and phased in over three years, beginning with New Castle County.

As outlined in a memorandum prepared by Michael Parkowski, lawyer for the waste authority, and presented at a meeting of the council on Sept. 8, key elements of the program would look something like this:

Households statewide would be required to separate designated recyclables from other trash. All the recyclables would go into the same container and would be collected from where trash is now picked up. Common terminology refers to that as 'curbside' collection although most unincorporated communities do not have curbs.

It would be 'illegal' to include recyclables with garbage and general trash. The expectation is that compliance will be largely voluntary as the result of an education program. Trash haulers would not collect unseparated trash and there would be fines for flagrant and repeat violators.

Collections would be made by most if not all of the present private and municipal haulers, which would determine schedules and rates. It is expected that, in most cases, the same firm would pick up both general trash and recyclables with a single combined fee covering both services. The waste authority would collect from any area where hauling service is not available.

Steve Masterson, of Waste Management of Delaware, told the council that cost of the additional collection to a private hauling firm would average about $5 in New Castle County, $5.75 in Kent and $6.50 in Sussex. That assumes collection of recyclables every two weeks. Costs would be less, he said, in communities which contract with a single hauler.

Multi-unit residential properties, such as apartment or condominium buildings, which provide central depositories for trash would have to do so on a separated basis. Anyone who does not employ a trash hauler would be required to take general trash and recyclables in separate containers to whatever drop-off location they use.

Pasquale Canzano, the waste authority's chief operating officer, said its 'igloo' program for collecting recyclables "will probably go away" although elements such as collection of oil and discarded electronic products is likely to continue.

The waste authority would operate a processing facility which would prepare the recyclables for resale -- the idea being that the purpose of recycling is to reuse rather than dispose of material. Haulers and individuals would be able to deliver recyclable material to the processing facility without having to pay what is known in the business as a tipping fee.

There would be no requirement that the waste authority's facility be used or that the recyclables remain in Delaware. There are private firms, including some large trash haulers, which operate recycling facilities as part of their business.

In addition to presumably higher fees for private trash collection, the program would be financed by state grants and a collection fee charged on a per-ton basis to every firm and individual licensed by the state to haul solid waste. Those include more than just trash haulers. That money would go to subsidize the waste authority's processing facility if resale of material did not cover its cost. The grants provided by the legislature would be for capital costs, such as acquiring additional trucks, associated with municipalities starting the program.

The council was unable at its meeting to agree on an approach to handling so-called yard waste, which accounts for a significant portion of recyclable material now going into landfills. It has agreed that such things as grass-clippings and leaves should be banned from the landfills.

While ecologically conscious people advocate such things as mulching and composting those materials, there is a recognized learning curve associated with spreading that message to the general public.

Noting that there are a relatively large number of landscaping and tree cutting firms which would likely handle such material for a fee, Wilkinson said that "once you tell people they will have to pay for [that service], they'll find other things to do with [the material]."  But Pat Todd, of the League of Women Voters, argued that it would be politically unpalatable to simply ban the material from landfills "until you can say where it will go."

There has been some talk of attracting a commercial composting firm to the area, but the relatively small volume of yard waste generated in the state -- estimated at about 45,000 tons a year -- probably would not make such an operation economically attractive.

2004. All rights reserved.

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