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.
Encouraging private curbside pickup instead was a way for the county to cut costs while supporting recycling, he said.
Kevin Bearese of Hagerstown dropped his recyclables at a transfer station on Thursday.
During an interview the next day, he said he has been recycling since the early 1970s, before it became popular.
He said he favors anything that promotes recycling since residents pay for it one way or the other.
“If it’s for the common good, I think it’s worthwhile,” he said.
But, Bearese said, the debate shouldn’t be limited to whether the county or a private hauler should pick up recyclables. An important question is how to get people to reduce their consumption that leads to trash or waste.
“It should be on the front end,” he said.
Breaking down the numbers
The county’s year-to-year analysis on recycling participation was based on three components.
One was the estimated number of county households that signed up for curbside recycling from private haulers this year — 2,800.
The second was the number of new households participating in recycling through the municipalities they live in. Murray said there were 2,262 households in towns that recently started curbside recycling service. The county estimated that 50 percent of them, or 1,131, recycle.
The third part is the number of recycling-only permits the county sold since introducing that option — 1,361 as of Wednesday.
The total of those three parts is 5,292.
The county calculated that in 2011, based on tonnage, an estimated 5,086 households recycled. But the county figured that 10 percent of that amount — and, therefore, 10 percent of the households — was from out of state, nonrecyclable or from businesses, dropping the total to 4,577 households.