October 21, 2004

Mandatory recycling taking shape; but who's watching?

A proposal with the potential to impact, at least in a limited way, the daily routine in literally every Delaware household is about to be presented for public review, but its backers wonder if more than a relatively small segment of the public will show up to participate in the process.

The Recycling Public Advisory Council is putting final touches on a plan crafted during the past several months which, if enacted into law, would require everyone to separate most recyclable material from general trash and garbage for separate collection and would prohibit disposal of yard waste such as grass and leaves in what is now the usual manner for most people.

Intent of the proposed program is to divert at least 30% of residential solid waste from the state's three landfills and to market recovered material for new uses. That would be about six times the present recycling rate resulting mostly from voluntary efforts. Including waste generated from commercial sources increases the target rate to 40%.

While more widespread participation has long been advocated by environmentally attuned people, efforts of the council, which was established in 2000 by an executive order of former governor Thomas Carper, were given impetus by the dispute over the Delaware Solid Waste Authority's plan to significantly enlarge the landfill in Cherry Island Marsh in northeast Wilmington.

Under an agreement reached at the beginning of 2004, the council is teamed with the waste authority and the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control -- which also are represented on the council -- to recommend by the turn of the year a plan to achieve the 30% goal by July, 2008, to Governor Ruth Ann Minner and the General Assembly. The agreement provides for the plan to be accompanied by proposed legislation to be introduced into the Assembly when it convenes in January.

At a meeting on Oct. 20, the Council agreed on most provisions of a preliminary draft of a plan to be put before four public hearings. They will be held at the Dover Sheraton hotel on Nov. 4, the Rehoboth Beach conventions center on Nov. 8, the Carvel state office building in Wilmington on Nov. 16 and the Embassy Suites hotel in Newark on Nov. 17. The sessions will begin at 7 p.m.

The main elements of the plan call for separated recyclables to be collected by private hauling firms or municipal trash collectors on a regular basis. Instead of being taken to a landfill, however, they would be taken either to a processing facility operated by the waste authority or to a privately operated processing facility. Yard waste would either be mulched or composted on their property or householders would have to arrange with a trash hauling, landscaping or other firm to collect and dispose of it.

Cost of the additional collections would be covered by fees charged by the commercial hauling firms or borne by municipalities providing trash collection. Processing of the recyclables would be subsidized, to the extent that cost exceeded what could be recovered by selling the material, by increased fees paid by all licensed trash haulers.

Not resolved at the council meeting was an estimate of how much mandatory recycling would cost householders. Figures previously presented to the council range from about $3 a month to $7 a month. It was decided at the meeting to have the members preparing the presentation for the public hearings to settle on a range of what the cost is likely to be for inclusion in the presentation.

It was agreed that if the estimates turn out to be understated, there will be claims that was deliberate in order to secure public support. If they stray too far on the high side, it could jeopardize passage by the legislature of enabling legislation.

More basic in terms of achieving public support for its plan is how many attenders will show up at the hearings. After a burst of initial attention, the council's activities have drawn a limited amount of news media attention. Pasquale Canzano, its chief operating officer, said to counter that the waste authority will spend $20,000 on newspaper display advertising in an effort to attract a crowd to the hearings.

Michael Parkowski, the waste authority's attorney, said it also will be necessary to counter "two prevailing myths" -- that the additional cost of mandatory recycling will be fully recovered by selling the processed material, and that the program will eliminate the need for landfills.

The preliminary draft said that, without expansion, Cherry Island's life expectancy is about two years and that achieving the 30% recycling rate will extend that by only about four or five months. If the goal is achieved, the three landfills combined can operate for about 20 years instead of the presently estimated 17 years.

2004. All rights reserved.

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