Does anyone think that environmental
secretary John Hughes's decision about expanding the Cherry
Island Marsh landfill is going to have a significant impact on
New Castle County's waste disposal problem? While buying a
little additional time to come up with a workable alternative to
simply burying potentially reusable trash, he appears ready to
waste much of that time by going down the same well-worn path
hoping to discover something that didn't turn up before.
thinks his decision is going to spark some real action, think
again. At best it will be as effective as combating speeding by
putting'reduce speed' signs on the interstate.
Simply put, the landfill is running out of room. So
Delaware Solid Waste Authority petitioned the Department of Natural Resources &
Environmental Control for permission to increase its authorized height to 300
feet. That immediately set off alarms among environmental activists and
residents of southeastern Brandywine Hundred and northeastern Wilmington and for
good reason. The prospect of a gargantuan Mount Trashmore off Interstate 495
southeast of Edgemoor isn't appealing for a variety of reasons, not the least of
which is its potential health risk.
Hughes's ruling was that the dump can grow, but only by
about 30 feet to 195 feet And that, he said in effect, is as high as the
regulatory agency is willing to go.
So what happens when the new limit is reached? The press
handout the department issued did not speculate on when that might be.
Previously published data indicates we're talking six to 10 years.
So what's to be done in the meanwhile to avoid a major
crisis a few years hence?
One of the strings
attached to the not-yet-made-public implementing order: "Submit to [the
department] within six months a comprehensive recycling plan to maximize
diversion of wastes from the landfill with an overall goal of diverting 40% of
municipal solid waste."
On which planet has Secretary Hughes been hanging out
during the past five years while the question of how to provide for a reasonable
amount of recycling has been studied, restudied and studied some more?
A year-long study directed by the solid waste authority
under an agreement with Hughes's department and the governor's Recycling Public
Advisory Council produced a detailed plan that would require households
throughout the state to set aside designated recyclable material for separate
pickup with the solid waste authority, private recyclers or a combination of
both processing it for sale and eventual reuse.
Recognizing that legislation to implement such a plan would
be nearly impossible to wrest from the General Assembly, Governor Ruth Ann
Minner's staff toned down the recommendation and produced a proposal for a
voluntary recycling arrangement. Introduced last June, proposed legislation to
implement it is pending as the Assembly returns for the second half of its
session. Even though it would produce as weak a recycling law as could be
imagined, observers feel it too has little or no chance of passage. Downstate
legislators don't like what they perceive to be a foot-in-the-door approach.
Recycling has its advocates, most of whom are already
recycling -- to the tune of about 5% of the potential volume of recyclable
What clearly is needed is a recycling law with teeth.
Everybody does it and if you're caught not doing it you're fined enough to make
you wish you had.
That's hardly a radical approach. Recycling is an accepted
way of domestic life in many communities. Two containers under the kitchen sink
is commonplace. Four is not all that rare.
The 2004 study concluded that a recycling program has to be
convenient and not costly. Both of those conditions can be easily met. State
legislation can provide for county government to establish trash districts.
Waste collecting firms bid for exclusive franchises to serve each of the
districts -- either just with regard to recyclables or all trash.
Whether the county collects through the property tax or a
separate fee or the haulers bill customers, exclusiveness and compact routes
should come close to offsetting the added cost of a separate recyclables
collection. Less frequent collecting of a smaller volume of ordinary trash also
would come into play.
Small firms in the business don't like that idea. They can
be accommodated by tailoring some of the districts to a size where it is
cost-effective for the moms-and-pops and not so for the biggies or with some
kind of set-asides. Municipal governments don't like being forced into the
recyclables collection business. Incorporated areas already have the option of
having county government provide selected services. There is no reason
contracted hauling can't be one of those.
But even an effective recycling program is not going to
erase the waste disposal problem. There will still be trash that can't be
recycled and, given the volatile nature of the scrap business, recyclables that
cannot be sold for reuse.
It comes down to the 'I' word.
It's time to look very seriously at the state law enacted
several years ago to restrict trash incineration. Incineration is still
controversial although it can be argued that up-to-date technology minimizes
risks. The questions, however, are not whether to burn the stuff but how and
where to burn it.
The time and cost of another recycling study would be
better directed to answering the former. The latter seems a no-brainer. The
nearly full landfill happens to be situated next to Delmarva Power's principal
electricity generating station. Incineration provides energy to run turbines
that generate electricity. That could even soften the rate increases associated
with electricity deregulation.
No one suggests that the decisions which have to be made in
the wake of Hughes's order will come easily. But they will come a darn sight
easier that deciding where in New Castle County to locate the new landfill that
will replace Cherry Island Marsh when it is closed.
Would you believe stardust? Make that cometdust.
For thousands of years, stargazers on Earth have marveled
at the ghostly beauty of comments as they streak across the night sky trailing
tails of fire, wondering what they are and where they come from. Today's
scientists have many of the answers, but on Jan. 15 in the Utah desert, barring
a mishap, they will have another. The first-ever mission to fly to deep space
and steal samples from one of these cosmic travelers will be returning home.
Jan. 17 is the 300th anniversary of the
birth of Benjamin Franklin.
to reach U.S. History.org and what may be the most comprehensive
and best website appropriate for the occasion.