December 16, 2004

Unless the General Assembly enacts a law establishing a mandatory recycling program, there is no chance that the state goal of diverting 30% residential waste from landfills will be achieved.

An environmental consulting firm's study presented to the Recycling Public Advisory Council concludes that expansion of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority's voluntary programs, coupled with a ban on dumping yard waste, would, at best, produce a 24% rate. And Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the council, said his calculations using the same data found that Vermont-based D.S.M. Environmental Services is probably overoptimistic.

"I don't want people to think that, if we just get rid of yard waste, we can do it voluntarily," Wilkinson said.

Proposed legislation being prepared by Michael Parkwoski, lawyer for the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, would include a yard waste ban, but the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control believes that it has the authority to impose one by adoption of a regulation. It admits, however, that that assumption would likely be contested by a lawsuit.

After the council received a draft of the legislation at a meeting on Dec. 15, it voted to eliminate one controversial provision and to try to approve a final draft through an exchange of e.mail messages. It hopes that can be done in time to meet an end-of-the-year deadline for submitting it and a detailed report to Governor Ruth Ann Minner and the Assembly. The council also has yet to sign off on a final version of the report and agreed to try to do that electronically as well.

If reaching such consensus approvals fails, the council agreed to come together in early January to wrap up a year's effort to craft a workable recycling program. The Assembly is scheduled to be called into session on Jan. 11. The governor presumably will make known her views on recycling legislation in her 'state-of-the-state' address later that month.

Discussion at the council meeting indicated that getting a mandatory recycling law through the legislature is anything but a guaranteed proposition. Nor is it even clear how Minner will respond to what will amount to a joint proposal by the council, the natural resources department and the waste authority. Senator David McBride, who is considered the most likely lead sponsor of recycling legislation, declined a Delaforum request for comment, saying that he wants to "wait and see what the governor decides."

The 30% goal was set by former governor Thomas Carper when he set up the recycling council by executive order and retained when Minner continued the council in the same manner. An attempt by McBride to give the goal the force of law by including it in a preliminary version of recycling legislation failed when the Assembly defeated that measure last spring.

Parkowski's draft legislation as it now stands mostly follows that path the council charted since entering into a joint agreement with the natural resources department and the waste authority to

produce a workable recycling plan. "I tried to make sure the legislation reflects the decisions made by this group," Parkowski said.

The draft went beyond that in at least two respects.

One provision would impose a $3-a-ton fee on all waste haulers licensed by the state to create a fund to subsidize a waste authority facility to process recyclables for resale, but exempt municipalities which collect trash from paying the fee. By a five-to-two vote, with Pasquale Canzano, the waste authority's chief operating officer and a member of the council, abstaining, the council directed Parkowski to drop the exemption from the provision in the final draft.

Parkowski said he had put it there to head off opposition from governments of incorporated areas, particularly Wilmington, to the measure. He estimated the fee would cost Wilmington about $4 million a year.

The fee would not be imposed on recyclable trash hauled by

How we're doing

Northern Brandywine Hundred is leading the way in the rate of participation by households in the Delaware Solid Waste Authority's subscription recyclables collection program.

Here, by postal zip code, are the rates as of Oct. 24:

19810 6.3% 19702 0.6%
19803 3.8% 19806 0.5%
19711 3.3% 19805 0.5%
19807 1.7% 19808 0.2%
19707* 1.2% 19720 0.2%
19709 1.0% 19802 0.1%
19809 0.8% 19804* 0.1%
19703 0.7% county 1.3%

* Program was not available before June 1, 2004.

anyone. The draft also contains a provision for a one-time $5 million appropriation to finance a fund into which municipalities could tap by a grants process to help pay for additional equipment and other costs associated with starting a recyclables collection operation.

The other new provision -- which the council discussed only briefly and on which it did not take a position -- involves enforcement of the law and regulations flowing from it. It calls for a graduated process ranging upward from a "request for compliance" to charging flagarent violators with an environmental misdemeanor, for which existing law provides penalties ranging up to a $500 fine and a 30-day jail sentence.

Wilkinson said he would not want to see "enforcement as something that is a heavy-handed exercise." Parkowski said the intent is to rely on public education as the key to making the law work with the enforcement provision there to provide "a hammer" if needed. "If people see there is no hammer behind it, they will not participate," he said.

Controversial by its absence from the draft was inclusion of glass and some kinds of plastic from the list of recyclable materials to be collected. Listed are paper, aluminum, steel and some plastics. Thre is also a provision that additional materials can be added in the future.

The waste authority contends that glass, in particular, has no resale value and that including it would contaminate paper and reduce its value. The authority is counting on selling the processed material to provide for the lion's share of the cost of operating the processing facility.

Canzano said also that it it intends to provide a way by which people can voluntarily drop off some recyclable materials that will not be collected -- such as batteries and electronic products -- and glass can be handled in that way. "Nothing prevents us in the future from adding other materials as markets develop," he said.

When the council appeared apt to become bogged down in discussion of the glass issue, Wilkinson cut off the conversation on the grounds the issue had been covered. He cautioned against excessive tampering with the draft legislation which Parkowski, who is experienced in that area, said was designed to garner as much legislative support as possible.

Compromise of some points, Wilkinson said, is preferable to jeopardizing the measure. "Jazz it up and [you will] have the whole thing shot down," he said.

That is likely to happen anyway "if you go ahead with a proposal that is generally unacceptable to the public," according Alan Mueller, of Green Delaware, who attended the meeting as an observer said. He argued that the program the council has come up with does not have public support.

Council member Steve Masterson, of Waste Management of Delaware, conceded that, although comments at four public hearings were almost entirely favorable, "there is a small group that likes it, a small group that doesn't like it, and the majority of the public [which] doesn't give a darn."

Lee Hoffman, president of the Milltown-Limestone Civic Alliance, who also attended as an observer, asked the council "use this (recycling) as a platform" to require that trash collection, including collection of recyclables, be handled by a system by which haulers would be franchised by districts. He said trucks from five different firms serve the 15 houses that he can see from his house and those from three or four other firms drive through his neighborhood.

"If you're not going to districting, we (the civic organization) are. ... I can't see why anything you have [in] here has to raise the cost," he said. The additional cost of having private companies collect recyclables is estimated to run between $3 and $7 a month, depending on the density of a neighborhood's population.

Although it generally is accepted that the purpose for recycling is to make use of material that otherwise would be abandoned, Parkowski's draft would codify that by specifically providing that "the source-separated recyclable material enter the marketplace as usable products or are put to other beneficial use."

It also formally establishes the goals by providing that the residential waste recovery rate, which is equivalent to the amount of recyclable material diverted from landfills, reach a minimum of 15% in a year, 20% in two years, and 30% in three years. When waste from commercial sources is included, the minimum recovery rate is set at 50% after three years.

The current residential rate, which includes the waste authority's 'Recycle Delaware' program for material brought to collection sides and its subscription collection service in New Castle County, is estimated to be about 14%.

Wilkinson said a future project for the council will be to push for mandatory recycling by government agencies in the state. "If government offices ... are not willing to recycle, why should the people be required to recycle?" he said.

2004. All rights reserved.

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