July 23, 2004

Private trash-hauling firms would collect the material and determine what their customers in unincorporated areas would pay for the service under the approach to implementing mandatory recycling which the Recycling Public Advisory Council favors.

The state would directly finance the purchase of equipment and other start-up costs for municipalities which collect trash from their residents while the companies would be able to recoup some of those expenses through state tax credits.

Delaware Solid Waste Authority would process the collected recyclables for resale without imposing any 'tipping fee' on haulers or individuals who bring the material to its processing facility. Haulers would be free to process the waste themselves -- as some large companies now do elsewhere -- or to sell it to commercial processors.

It is presumed that the authority's income from selling the material would usually cover the cost of operating the processing facility. At times when unfavorable market conditions prevent that, the facility would be subsidized through a fund created by tapping revenue from licenses which all haulers must have.

A more esoteric source of revenue discussed during an all-day workshop-style meeting of the gubernatorial council on July 22 was to impose a tax on items, such as plastic bottles or aluminum cans, which are obvious recyclables. That thread of conversation was dropped when it was pointed out that, no matter how presented, it would be a sales tax in a state where a sales tax is anathema.

That is not to say that the approach crafted by votes among the eight members of the council at the session are the last -- or anywhere near the last -- word on the subject. There are, instead, a start toward molding the results of a feasibility study produced by the waste authority under terms of an agreement with the council and the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control into a final report and draft legislation for presentation to Governor Ruth Ann Minner and the General Assembly by the end of the year.

The final call is hers and the lawmakers'.

But the council's approach does seem to address what emerged as the main sticking points as elements of the preliminary report and an early version of legislation came together.

Smaller trash-hauling firms oppose any system that would grant a single company exclusive right to collect either recyclables or all kinds of trash in a given geographic area or community. They argue that they would be at a disadvantage in competing with larger firms in a bidding process to acquire those franchises.

As now presented, the arrangement would require firms to collect recyclables from the same households which engage them to collect other trash or, at present, all their trash. A company -- presumably a small company -- which did not want to get into the additional business could contract with another firm to do it. The waste authority would be a fall-back collector in areas where no private firm wanted the business.

Fees would be set as they are now -- by competition. Although that is considered more equitable than what would likely happen if exclusive franchises were granted, it was agreed there is likely to be disparity among various areas of the state.

A general estimate presented in the preliminary report put the cost of collection at between $7 and $8.50 a month depending upon whether all recyclables could be put into a single container or they would have to be divided into two containers. Also having yard waste collected would add about $3 a month to those amounts.

Having the hauling firms collect from their customers as part of an overall monthly or bimonthly fee for service would eliminate the earlier proposal that each county government be assessed an overall fee which they, in turn, would have to pass through as individual fees or a component of their real estate tax. New Castle County officials are understandably opposed to that.

An even more politically sensitive problem addressed by the suggested financing arrangement is what to do about municipalities which say they cannot finance the cost of getting into recycling. Wilmington Mayor James Baker has said flat-out that the city cannot afford to do so. Newark and Dover also provide municipal trash collection.

Newport Mayor Donald Mulrine, who is a member of the advisory council, told the meeting that the problem lies mainly in getting started. If the state would finance that, the savings from having to dispose of less trash at landfills might offset the cost of the additional collection runs that would be required. That should work, he said, if the waste authority is prevented from requiring a fee at the recycling facility. In any event, "we would be on our own" after a one-time infusion of state money, he said.

He also proposed phasing in the mandatory plan which would give the legislature the more palatable option of spreading the start-up cost over two years. New Castle County would start in the first year with Kent and Sussex to follow in the second.

It was agreed by council members that recycling be a statewide obligation and that it be mandatory for every household. Those in rural areas who take their trash to landfills would have to take recyclables in separate containers. Yet to be decided is what to do about those who live in sparsely populated areas where separate roadside pickups may not be economically practical.

2004. All rights reserved.

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