July  2, 2004

Failure of the General Assembly to enact residential recycling legislation does not mean the idea of mandating it statewide has been set aside. On the contrary, an effort which has been underway for six months seeks to provide for everything that was in the lost measure plus a good deal more.

"We will go forward as if it were enacted," Richard Pryor, chairman of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority's board of directors, declared at a board meeting less than 24 hours after a bill sponsored by Senator David McBride and Representative Joseph Miro expired in the House Republican caucus during the waning hours of the 124th Assembly.

If all goes according to plan, soon after the 125th convenes in January it will receive a new bill which will define a statewide program for collecting and putting to reuse several kinds of recyclable material, establish an enforcement mechanism to achieve compliance by just about every household and provide for a way to finance it.

That contrasts sharply with this year's relatively innocuous 'first step' version. That would have just set a goal of diverting 30% of residential solid waste from the state's three landfills by July, 2008, and charged the waste authority, working in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and the governor's Recycling Public Advisory Council, to come up by the end of 2004 with recommendations for doing so.

The waste authority remains committed to a collaborative effort with the same two partners not only to do that voluntarily but also to have the resultant plan embedded in law and regulation, Pryor

told Delaforum before the meeting on July 1. N.C. Vasuki, its chief executive officer, added that the authority will be ready once the program is in place to provide the necessary services -- that is, if it is around to do so.

Observers are agreed that one of the things that likely killed the McBride-Miro bill was an 11th hour amendment filed by Representative Stephanie Ulbrich who would have added "or its successor agency" to a reference to the waste authority.  Ulbrich is the House chairwoman of the Assembly's Joint Sunset Committee, which reportedly is considering whether the was authority is to have a future.

Nevertheless, Pryor's and Vasuki's comments are particularly significant because the waste authority is lead agency under a formal tripartite agreement to produce a feasibility study and proposed legislation to present to Governor Ruth Ann Minner, legislators and the public by the end of December. That would seem to indicate that whatever gets introduced into the Assembly in January will have the governor's active support -- something which the McBride-Miro bill did not have.

Although running about three months behind the timetable that was set when the agreement was made last January, the authority will have first drafts of reports on all the components of 

Where are they?

The post card notice (above) said that Delaware Solid Waste Authority directors would meet at the agency's headquarters in Dover on July 1. They met 55 miles away at the agency's northern office near Holloway Terrace. An employee said someone "made a mistake" when preparing the card and that the 'official' notice of meeting, published as a newspaper classified advertisement and duly posted, was correct. There were two notices posted at the northern office. An undated one specified the Dover location. The other, labeled as a changed one and dated June 29, gave the correct location.

the study ready for the gubernatorial panel to begin considering at a meeting later this month, according to Pasquale Canzano, chief operating officer. The initial draft of proposed legislation has already been distributed and was inconclusively discussed at the council's meeting in June.

It was clear from that discussion and a limited amount of reaction from outside of the council that, once you get past acceptance of the 30% reduction goal, all the key elements of the proposal are controversial. The two which stand out most prominently are provisions to cover the cost of collecting and processing recyclables by "a service charge billed to the counties" and to allow trash-hauling firms to bid on exclusive contracts to collect recyclables in designated districts.

The draft legislation does not actually refer to incorporated municipalities having to pay fees, but Mayors James Baker of Wilmington and Donald Mulrine of Newport have already weighed in publicly with objections on the grounds that those jurisdictions cannot afford them. The alternative of adding manpower and equipment to enable the existing municipal operation to pick up recyclables would be even more expensive. County officials, who would have to pass the 'service charge' on in the form of a tax or fee, aren't exactly overjoyed by that prospect. Their argument is that having to pay for a state program would amount to imposition of an 'unfunded mandate'.

The waste authority is an autonomous self-supporting public agency. If it were to undertake more extensive processing of recyclables than it now does and to contract for collections, it probably would require a state appropriation. The principal environmental argument for recycling has to do with the sale of the material for re-use. However, selling the material in what is said to be a highly volatile market would not cover the collection and processing costs, according to the authority. The feasibility study will estimate the shortfall to be equivalent to between $4 and $5 a month per household.

Contracting to collect recyclables by district is being presented as a compromise between setting up collection districts in which a single successful bidder would have the exclusive right to collect all trash and letting the present competitive system, which prevails in most unincorporated areas of New Castle County, handle recyclables as well as general trash.

Small companies argue that anything but the latter would sooner or later drive them out of business. There currently are 35 trash hauling firms in the county with two of them, Waste Management and B.F.I., reputedly controlling about 75% of the business.

On the micro side of potential objections to recycling is the presumed inconvenience to householders who would have to prepare for two trash collections and to sort recyclable material.

The waste authority now operates a voluntary recycling collection service in Brandywine Hundred and the Newark area and is about to extend it to the 19806 postal zip code zone in Wilmington with a view to having it operative throughout New Castle County by Sept. 15. Subscribing households are charged $36 semiannually for the basic service or $54 semiannually to include up to four bags a week of grass clippings and other yard waste. Subscribers are provided with a small reusable bin and three color-coded plastic bags for sorting the waste.

Yard waste, which makes up a significant portion of recyclable waste now going to landfills, is an issue unto itself. The advisory council and the natural resources department were considering banning such material from landfills by regulation as early as the spring of 2005. That currently is on hold pending dealing with the topic as part of the comprehensive feasibility study.

Also very much up in the air at this point is a method for achieving compliance. Both the McBride-Miro bill and the waste authority's draft legislation refer to "mandatory" recycling, but there are some who question whether 'mandatory' and 'compulsory' are necessarily synonymous. Not altogether facetious is the inevitable humor about whether there should be a 'trash Gestapo'.

Other jurisdictions avoid that by relying on public opinion, compliance notices left on doors and, as a next-to-last resort, leaving unseparated trash uncollected. Although legislation usually specifies fines for noncompliance, such provisions are seldom if ever used.

Pryor pointed out that both versions of recycling legislation speak to "curbside recycling." While that obviously is meant to refer to the place from which material is collected for recycling, he noted that defining it in terms of curbs is anachronistic in most of suburbia.

He told Delaforum that the initial draft of the legislation is far from being the final version. "We're going into this with an open mind. ... It's fair to say that it will be changed in many respects as the deliberative and consultative process goes forward," he said. In addition to recommendations, the final report "will also set forth [other] possibilities," he added.

He was not specific about what they might be, but did indicate that he considers Baker's concerns about how to pay for a program legitimate. Pryor is director of economic development in Baker's city administration.

The tripartite agreement provides for subjecting the proposed report and legislation to public hearings during the coming autumn in all three counties and Wilmington before their final adoption by the three agencies.

An in-principle endorsement of moving to a statewide recycling program was voiced at the waste authority's meeting by Everett Bass, Houston, Tex.-based vice president of Waste Management. He said his firm supports recycling and is ready in Delaware "to demonstrate how efficient and cost-effective we can be." His attending the meeting was coincidental.

Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the advisory council, later said he was disappointed that the McBride-Miro bill did not survive. "I thought it was a good starting point for the state on recycling and would have added emphasis to what we are doing," he told Delaforum.

Vasuki said said the waste authority supported the amended version of the original measure which passed the Senate unanimously. It had opposed the original version. The amended version dropped a mandate that the waste authority establish a recycling program and substituted for it the process that the tripartite agreement calls for.

As to the future of the agency, he said "that is up to the sunset committee of the legislature to decide." He said, however, that lawmakers who appear to favor eliminating the waste authority haven't given much thought to what would happen next. "There will be just as much garbage the day after we 'sunset'," Vasuki said.


2004. All rights reserved.

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Senate approves recycling measure after waste authority drops opposition

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