Vol. 8, No. 13
March 30-April 5, 2000
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Managing a Mountain of Trash
by Molly Cannon

Each year, the average Anne Arundel County household generates almost one and a half tons of garbage: empty cereal boxes, milk jugs, candy wrappers, apple cores, sandwich bags and so forth. Helping residents cope with that mountain of trash in an environmentally safe, cost-effective manner is one of the principal jobs assigned to the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works.

It’s a job we all could do better.

We could be recycling more at the curb and burying less in the landfill. Half of what residents throw into their trash cans, and, ultimately, the landfill, could be recycled through our curbside recycling program.

Most of this is paper, including newspapers, magazines, catalogs, paperboard (cereal) boxes and junk mail. Of course, paper is the easiest of all materials for residents to recycle. There is no rinsing and no odor. Just place it in a paper grocery sack and move it to the curb on recycling day.

We have another problem. Our curbside collection system is inefficient and not cost effective. The average household generates the same amount of trash today as it did in 1990. Then, we collected all of that trash with two weekly collections. Today, we send four trucks — two for trash, one for recycling and one for yard waste — to do the same job.

In addition, our two trash collections are underused. Most residents set out less on their second trash pickup, and many do not use the second day at all.

Finally, we have a limited amount of space for trash at the Millersville landfill, and we want it to last as long as possible. Replacing Millersville will be expensive — we estimate it will cost $500 million — and finding another 563 acre site in Anne Arundel County would be difficult. Recycling more can help.

We know all of this because we have researched what other jurisdictions across the country do, conducted surveys and held focus-group discussions with residents about the problems we face and the potential solutions.

We have learned from customers that they need help recycling. It has been too long since we sent information about what recycling services are available and how to use them. Some residents told us they need more, or bigger, recycling bins; others would like bins with lids and wheels. They want yard waste collection year round. They do not like Saturday collections, and they do not like missing trash collections on holidays or because of bad weather. We have learned a lot from our customers, and we expect to learn a lot more.

Regardless of anything else we do, we know that we must provide residents with more information and support for recycling. We have planned a major recycling education campaign that will begin this spring. In addition, we will provide residents who call 410/222-6108 or visit one of our convenience centers in Glen Burnie, Millersville and Sudley with additional yellow bins at no charge.

We believe we also can make the system more efficient by moving from four collections per week to three. We would provide trash pickup once a week on either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We would collect yard waste year round on either Monday or Friday. You would receive yellow-bin recycling collection on either your trash day or yard waste day.

We would eliminate routine Saturday collections. Saturdays would be used, instead, to make up for collections missed on holidays or because of bad weather. Under our current schedule, we do not have that flexibility.

We want to hear more from you about this important change. Already I have met with several citizens groups to explain why a change is necessary, why we believe this change is a reasonable and responsible one and to solicit their constructive ideas and suggestions. I am scheduled to meet with numerous others.

I have heard from members of some large families who say the change would be extremely difficult. Other large families — whose members include avid recyclers — say no problem.

Just about everyone has asked about costs. We anticipate the change would save residents money, but we will not know how much until we bid our collection contracts this summer. We also know that, in the long-run, recycling more will extend the life of the landfill, which will save us all even more money.

We have plenty of time. County Executive Janet Owens will not make a decision regarding this proposal until at least September. Even if the county executive approves the change, we would not implement it until fall 2001. That leaves us plenty of time to help everyone recycle more and waste less.

Molly Cannon is the Department of Public Works’ solid waste program manager. Reach her by phone (410/222-6108), fax (410-222-6105) or e-mail [email protected].

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly