Washington County Board of Commissioners face criticism in recycling decision
Sorters remove recyclables Thursday at Waste Management recycling facility near Elkridge, Md. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / May 19, 2012)
To some, the solution — a private, opt-out curbside pickup program — did not seem comprehensive or compulsory enough; to others, not voluntary enough.
Meanwhile, the decision to restrict access to the county’s drop-off recycling bins and to begin charging to use them has led to concerns that frustrated users will stop recycling altogether.
As of May 7, the county had logged 12 complaints saying the opt-out program was a poor decision, 11 complaints about restricting access to the bins and six complaints that there will be a fee associated with recycling, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.
“We’re not going to make everybody happy, obviously,” he said.
Murray described the commissioners’ actions as a compromise that allowed them to encourage recycling without forcing anyone who doesn’t participate to help pay for it.
“What they wanted to do was provide a voluntary means to recycle that didn’t impact the tax base,” he said.
To Boonsboro resident and recycling advocate Janeen Solberg, that’s exactly the problem.
“When you take something that in most parts of the country is considered a necessary service, provided by the government to the citizens in order to help them make the right choices for the greater good — that’s how I look at recycling,” Solberg said. “It’s a service that in my mind, in the minds of many people, should automatically be part of our taxes. And I hear a lot and read a lot about our lack of funds, but at the same time I think what it really reflects is a lack of values.”
Understanding the differing perspectives on the issue requires some background into the county’s landfill operations and what happens to recyclables after they are dropped off in a bin.
A question of cost-effectiveness
Recycling advocates point to saved landfill space as a benefit of expanded recycling, but according to Murray, the equation is not that simple.
At the current pace, the county has almost 100 years’ worth of space available at its Forty West Landfill, he said.
It has been estimated that a countywide curbside recycling program, with an “acceptable” level of participation, would save the county one cell’s worth of landfill space over 50 years, Murray said.
A cell costs about $10 million, and at the current pace, takes about five to six years to fill, he said.
Meanwhile, to provide recycling bins and pay a contractor for curbside recycling countywide carries an estimated $2 million a year price tag, or $100 million over 50 years, Murray said.
“In 50 years, we’re looking at a $100 million cost to save $10 million on a landfill cell,” he said. “So we net out $90 million to save five years on a 100-year landfill. That’s just not cost-effective.”
Not everyone is convinced of those figures.
“I don’t think that those numbers can be right,” said Jerome Martin, a county Solid Waste Advisory Commission member and former Smithsburg Town Council member. “I can’t see it being that expensive.”