Washington County says more households are recycling
Kevin Bearese tosses plastics into recycling bin Thursday at Greensburg Convenience Center near Smithsburg. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / July 21, 2012)
The county has determined, through rough calculations, that recycling participation through various means might be up more than 15 percent from 2011.
For recycling, Washington County has decided on a middle ground between doing nothing and making it a mandatory, tax-supported service.
Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the county asked local trash haulers about the possibility of recycling-only curbside pickup, instead of offering it as part of trash-hauling package. Allied Waste responded and was invited to make a presentation on the program to the county commissioners, he said.
Allied proceeded with a controversial “opt-out” program, in which recycling bins were delivered to households; residents had to contact the company if they wanted to refuse the paid service, which began in early June.
Other private haulers followed suit and also offered recycling-only curbside service.
The county also has removed recycling bins from public places, starting with county bins set up in the city of Hagerstown. Officials have said the bins became dumping grounds for bulk items and trash.
Cutting the financial drain
During an interview on Wednesday, Murray said the recycling program long has been a financial drain on the county. The county was spending more than $500,000 a year on it, based on how much it paid for each “pull,” the term to describe a hauler emptying a bin, he said.
Each pull cost the county $166.02, according to Sarah Lankford Sprecher, a county spokeswoman.
Recycling expenses are considered part of the overall cost of running the landfill.
The county took an additional financial hit this year when Waste Management stopped hauling trash from the city of Hagerstown to the county’s Forty West Landfill, which charges a tipping fee to haulers, Murray said. That was a loss of $600,000 in revenue, he said.
Murray said some people want the county to pay for a curbside recycling program, “but we’ve heard from more people who say, ‘Don’t raise my taxes.’”
At public meetings, over and over, residents have called for curbside recycling, Commissioner William B. McKinley said.
“If we can do this in a way that we don’t lose money, I’d rather do that,” he said.
McKinley said most of the recent complaints have been about the county charging $36 for households per year for a permit to drop recyclables at the landfill or the transfer stations.
Initially, that permit only was offered to people who didn’t live in the area where Allied Waste offered curbside pickup of recyclables. But in June, the county commissioners amended the policy so the permit was available to all county residents.
As of Wednesday, 1,361 county residents had purchased the recycling-only permit to use the landfill or four transfer stations, Murray said.
The county charges $130 a year for a residential permit for full use of the landfill and the transfer stations, allowing the dropoff of trash and recyclables. Because the recycling component loses money, a county Solid Waste Advisory Committee recommended raising the cost of the permit to $200 per year, Murray said.