November 30, 2004

Legislation establishing a mandatory recycling program will be ready for introduction into the General Assembly soon after the lawmakers return to Dover in January. Barring any unforeseen glitches, a draft of the measure and a report recommending the program will be handed up to Governor Ruth Ann Minner as scheduled around the turn of the year.

If the proposed law is enacted, householders will be required to separate designated recyclables from other trash for collection by waste-hauling firms or municipalities. Delaware Solid Waste Authority will operate a facility for separating and processing the recyclables for resale and reuse. Grass, leaves and other yard waste will be banned from landfills with householders obligated to find ways to dispose of such material.

While there appeared to be general support for that plan at a series of public hearings, members of the governor's Recycling Public Advisory Council acknowledge that it will require a proverbial giant step to go from there to final approval by the legislature. A far less ambitious measure died aborning in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last June.

"People there (at the hearings) were pro-recycling. I'm sure there are people out there who aren't in favor it it, but they weren't there," said council member Paul Bickhart, of Recycling Express of Delaware.

That was very much on the minds of his colleagues on the council as they went through the more significant comments and questions voiced at the hearings during a meeting on Nov. 29. With one exception, they ended up --  after sometimes spirited discussion -- reaffirming by consensus positions previously adopted and contained in the draft report that was before the hearings.

The exception had to do with the fate of glass, which the waste authority contends not only has virtually no value in the current market for recycled material but also contaminates and thereby reduces the value of recycled paper. Several attenders at the hearings objected to the specific exclusion of glass from the list of material to be collected in the program.

After considerable discussion about why folks who presently recycle on a voluntary basis seem to be adamant about wanting to keep glass in the mix, Donald Mulrine proposed that the council recommend that the waste authority keep open the 10 most heavily patronized 'Recycle Delaware' collection sites to receive glass as well as waste oil, batteries and other recyclable items deemed inappropriate for street-side pickup. Authority officials have said they will remove the familiar igloos and shut down the collection sites when mandatory recycling goes into effect, but will continue to receive the 'special' items at landfills and trash-transfer sites.

Pasquale Canzano, the authority's chief operating officer, argued that it would be counterproductive to "run a dual program" by continuing voluntary dropoffs at the igloos. As to including glass among the 'special' items, he said, "The market drives the process. ... The last thing we'd want to do is to collect something that ends up in the landfill because you can't market it."

Although a consultant study included in the draft report estimated that glass would constitute an estimated 17.5% of the recyclables collected in the mandatory program, Canzano pointed out that measure was by weight. "Glass is heavy, but [does not have] much volume in terms of the space it takes up in a landfill," he said. What effect eliminating glass would have on the program's ability to achieve the stated goal of a 30% diversion of material from the state's three landfills to recycling was not discussed.

At that point in the conversation, Rob Propes, of the Delaware Economic Development Office, proposed that the council, in its report, call upon the waste authority to "evaluate a system to collect specialty material" as part of the street-side pickup arrangement. That proposal was adopted unanimously with Canzano abstaining.

During the discussion, Canzano said the authority does not intend to halt its present program of collecting recyclables from households willing to pay a fee for such service. It currently has about 2,700 'customers' in Brandywine Hundred and Newark signed up for that program.

The presentation at the hearings referred to residents being "entitled" to use the waste authority's subscription service, but Steve Masterson, of Waste Management of Delaware, said his understanding was that the authority would provide for waste collection only as a backup in areas which private firms do not and are not willing to serve. "I never thought you'd be running a different system," he said. Propes questioned whether "it is proper to have a public authority compete with private enterprise." Canzano denied there would be any "direct competition."

Mulrine, who is mayor of Newport, said it would be important to keep a provision calling on the state to subsidize municipalities' purchases of new equipment to participate in the program. The city of Wilmington, especially, would need such help, he said. "If there isn't this kind of assistance ... we're not going to get this done."

Also reaffirmed was a position that private trash-hauling firms compete for the recycling pickup business as they now do for trash collection. The alternative would be to establish collection districts and have the firms bid competitively for exclusive franchises to serve them. "Districting would make it cheaper" to provide collection of recyclables, said Pat Todd, of the League of Women Voters. "It doesn't seem like we're providing for the best way."

Disputing her claim that providing for the least expensive service would "make it easier to get [a law] through the legislature," other members of the council said political considerations will play a prominent role in determining whether a recycling law is enacted. "The brass ring in all of this is to get a program going," Canzano said. Backing off from key previous decisions, like opposing districting, which had political considerations factored in, would jeopardize that. "The question is have we [already] made the right decisions. I think we have," he said.

The council did not specifically deal with a suggestion from its chairman, Paul Wilkinson, of the Delaware Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement, that it consider not including a proposal for banning yard waste from the landfills until it "further defines" a program for collecting and handling that material. Wilkinson was ill and unable to attend the meeting.

Council vice chairman John Blevins, of the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, said the department has deferred moving ahead on imposing the ban under its environmental rule-making authority. Although it believes that authority covers the situation, imposing a rule with specific statutory authority in a recycling law would make it easier to impose and less likely to face a court challenge, he said.

James Short, of the natural resources department, said applying a recycling law statewide is a an issue separate from coping with capacity of the landfills. "There are a whole lot of other reasons" to recycle, he said.

Observers agree that the dispute over the waste authority's seeking to enlarge the landfill on Cherry Island Marsh, which is said to be nearing capacity, provided the impetus for mandatory recycling as a way to extend its life. The natural resources department has suspended consideration of the waste authority's application for approval of the expansion pending the outcome of the effort to have a recycling law enacted. It is agreed, however, that the law would delay, but not eliminate, the need to expand at Cherry Island Marsh. The alternative to that would be to seek a location for another landfill in New Castle County and that is deemed highly improbable.

At the two hearings held in downstate locations, some residents of Kent and Sussex Counties questioned why they should be included in a recycling law since the landfills there are far from reaching capacity. Canzano told the council meeting that statewide recycling is appropriate because the waste authority has a mandate to operate statewide. "We could direct waste to [landfills in] the other counties if we had to [and] there is nothing to prevent a hauler from taking [material] there," he said.

As Delaforum previously reported, the council had long since decided that mandatory recycling would begin in New Castle County with less populous Kent and Sussex following a year later.

2004. All rights reserved.

Return to Delaforum Newsfront

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Recycling plan gets some backing from the public
Read previous Delaforum article:
Mandatory recycling bill dies, but the idea lives on

What is your opinion about the topic of this article?
Click here to express your views.