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)
Right now, it costs more to process the materials than what the material recovery facility gets by reselling the materials, so they make up the difference by charging a per-ton scale fee on incoming material, Murray said.
However, at Waste Management’s Elkridge Material Recovery Facility, where most single-stream recycling from Maryland is taken to be sorted, Area Recycling Operations Director Jim Marcinko contradicted Murray’s explanation.
Marcinko said the Elkridge facility actually pays counties, municipalities and haulers for the material they drop off there.
At that 50,000 square foot plant, conveyer belts criss-cross a large room as machines and workers sort the mix of paper, cardboard, cans and bottles, and machines compress the materials into bundles on palates, ready to ship to buyers.
‘Make government smaller’
The $3-per-month permit fee the county will begin charging July 1 for use of the recycling drop-off bins is designed to cover the operation cost of the bins, Murray said.
However, the county is making the permits available only to those who live outside of the pilot area for the Allied Waste curbside program.
If residents in the pilot areas were allowed to sign up to use the bins, “it makes it much less lucrative to have any other recycling program the commissioners are trying to promote, such as curbside,” Murray said.
“If you’re going to expect third-party contractors to put up the capital, hire the employees and do what it takes to provide curbside recycling, then once that’s available, we need to scale back what we provide so that that service is used,” he said. “Make government smaller so it allows the contractors to actually cost-effectively provide that service that we’re looking for.”
The bins are being kept for use by those residents in more rural areas where curbside recycling is not available, Murray said.
Ideally, he said, affordable curbside pickup eventually will be available countywide, at which point the county would stop offering bins.
The county pays employees to make sure the people using the recycling bins do not put nonrecyclables in them, he said. Under the new system, those employees also will check for the required permit stickers.
If the county did not have the recycling bins, it might be able to reduce costs at the transfer stations by replacing those employees with a system of key cards and cameras, he said.
Not everyone pleased
At least one county commissioner is unhappy with the decision to restrict access to the landfill bins.
Commissioner Terry Baker said at a recent commissioners’ meeting that he thought every citizen should have the option to buy a permit to use the bins.
Baker also said he had not been aware that Allied Waste’s program would be an opt-out program.
“I just think this is an aggressive approach,” he said.
Baker said he thought Allied Waste should instead have sent cards asking residents if they wanted to participate.
Murray stressed that households will get multiple notifications about the program and that opting out is simply a matter of making one phone call to the company.
Even if a household does not call to opt out, if they don’t put out recyclables and don’t pay their bill, the company will pick up the bin and will not charge that household, Murray said.
“At least you have the option of opting out,” Murray said. “It’s not mandated, which the commissioners could do and which most municipalities require.”
Of the 7,800 homes that were mailed postcards about the opt-out program, about 1,200 of them opted out before bins were delivered last week, said Don Groseclose, Chesapeake area municipal manager for Allied Waste.
After the bin distribution began, Allied had received about 1,600 more requests from households that don’t want the service as of Thursday, Groseclose said.
Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.