November 18, 2004

Residents of Wilmington and Brandywine Hundred who turned out for a public hearing were generally supportive of the proposed plan for mandatory recycling. Two 'umbrella' civic associations endorsed it with some relatively minor qualifications.

"It is coming and it has to happen," Stephen Tindall testified on behalf of Fox Point Association.

Comments recorded at the hearing conducted by the Recycling Public Advisory Council were the first formal expression of public reaction in northern New Castle County. Coming as they did from only about 30 attenders at the session, however, they are far from predictive of what will happen when the issue goes before the General Assembly soon after it convenes in January.

"Everything we hear said we can make this thing go," said Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the gubernatorial council.

He said the panel will meet soon to touch up the draft report by incorporating comments presented at the hearing in Wilmington on Nov. 16 and other sessions in Dover, Newark and Rehoboth Beach. The report, accompanied by draft legislation, is scheduled to be presented to Governor Ruth Ann Minner before the turn of the year.

Tindall raised issue with proposed financing of the proposal, suggesting that it might be unrealistic to expect the program to pay for itself. "This thing has to be subsidized," he said. "The county (New Castle) may need to get involved."

Except for initial grants from the state to help municipalities acquire additional equipment, the draft report proposes that collection of recyclables be financed by rates set by private trash-hauling firms. To the extent that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority cannot cover the cost of operating a processing facility by selling the recovered material, that would be made up by revenue from an increase in the state license fee that everyone who transport waste material pay. There would be no charge to the hauling firms or individuals who take recyclables to the processing facility.

Tindall noted that the area of southeastern Brandywine Hundred for which the Fox Point Association speaks and northeastern Wilmington provided the impetus for the effort to raise recycling above its current limited voluntary status. "Only after the public got angry about odors coming from the [Cherry Island Marsh] landfill [did] anybody take recycling seriously," he said.

He called upon the council, waste authority and the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, which are collaborating to produce the report and draft legislation, to avoid creating new odor problems in dealing with yard waste, a major component in the effort to reach a goal of diverting 30% of residential waste and 40% of all waste from landfills. In proposing a ban against dumping such material in the landfills, the report will advocate composting or mulching it.

Also endorsing the recycling plan was Wallace Kremer on behalf of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred. He suggested possible inclusion of "monetary concessions," which he did not specify, as an inducement to participate. But, he added, "With our population we should be able to high number [of households] participating."

Although mandatory in the sense that trash haulers will be required to collect recyclable material and not accept other trash if such items are mixed in with it, the draft report acknowledges that success in reaching the stated goals will require a large measure of voluntary cooperation from the public.

Wilkinson told the hearing that he does not "visualize a great deal of enforcement [action]." It probably will be limited to flagrant and repetitive violations with most offenders, at least in the early years of the program, being "reminded" of their obligation by notices left at their doors.

Many of the comments voiced at the hearing were directed toward questioning why glass is not to be included among recyclable items to be collected. The waste authority maintains that glass is relatively valueless when it comes to being able to sell recovered material and that its presence in recovered paper greatly reduces the value of that material at resale.

The plan is to have paper, plastic, steel and aluminum gathered into a single container for collection. It would be sorted automatically and by workers at the processing plant. Doing it that way, rather than having householders do the sorting before putting the material out for collection, has a lower net cost in the balance between collection and processing costs, according to the waste authority.

Don Farrell, of Wilmington, said that mandatory recycling will work only if properly enforced. "Politics is the main driver," he said. "It could end up [like] the bottle bill, which is not enforced."

State law requires that retailers collect a deposit on glass bottles and refund that money when the emptied bottles are returned. Relatively few people, however, bother to return them, which largely negates the environmental effect to which the law is addressed. Several people at the hearing said that is because major supermarkets and many liquor stores will not return the deposits.

James Short, of the natural resources department, told the hearing that, contrary to widespread public belief, "there is no fund" of unreimbursed deposits because the law as it now stands does not require retailers to segregate or account for that money. He said, however, that the department will respond to any complaints about specific establishments not obeying the law by returning deposits.

Charles Jenner, a landscaper, questioned the council's assumption that there will be a market for yard waste banned from landfills. "The mushroom industry generates a volume of organic matter" and that is enough to meet the demand in the region, he said. "It is unrealistic to expect private enterprise to do that recycling."


2004. All rights reserved.

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