More trash talk in Havre de Grace

Changes to trash collection in Harford County not only have been coming, but also will keep coming.

Those changes – the costs to dump trash in landfills and how recycling and yard waste are handled, chief among them – have led Havre de Grace and other jurisdictions to fight new battles with how their citizens get rid of their trash.

“It’s costing citizens lots of money,” Havre de Grace Mayor William Martin said Oct. 23 at the most recent City Council meeting. That’s a theme the mayor also raised at a previous meeting.

Havre de Grace, along with the rest of Harford County, is facing as future that most likely includes increasing costs for getting rid of its trash since it is being shipped to an eastern Baltimore County landfill as part of changes the county government instituted. The tipping fee, as the cost per ton for a jurisdiction to dump trash at a landfill is called, at the Baltimore County site is $72.

The charges to dump trash, compared to the no-cost disposal of recyclables, have led Havre de Grace officials to look at ways to get its citizens to recycle more, which will reduce the amount of trash dumped and save money.

Havre de Grace is recycling at a rate of 16 percent of its trash, up from 14 percent, according to Michael Collins, the general manager of Waste Industries in Harford County, the commercial trash hauling firm that handles waste collection for the city government.

That 16 percent is not good enough for the mayor, other city officials or community activists.

“This city should be at 50 percent,” says Kurt Smith, the volunteer head of the city’s Green Team, a group of environmental volunteers. “Havre de Grace is the worst recycler on the Chesapeake Bay. End of story.”

Smith said the blame lies clearly on the residents, who either don’t understand the importance of recycling, or know, but choose to ignore it.

“We have to take it upon ourselves to get better,” he said.

The Mayor and City Council are considering changes to the city code with a proposed ordinance that would address several issues related to residents, how their trash should be set out for collection, including the size and shape of containers; however, that proposal was pulled from the agenda at the last council meeting.

The proposed ordinance “will eventually come back, but not Monday night,” Monica Worrell, the City Council member listed on the Oct. 23 meeting agenda as the one who would introduce the measure, said Wednesday evening. “It still needs tweaking.”

Even though the potential ordinance was not formally brought up at the last council meeting, residents are already pushing back.

“I just want you to look into this,” Jim Miller, a Lewis Street resident and a former city council member, said during the citizen comments at the most recent meeting.

Miller’s comments spurred more discussion about the measure, specifically, the availability of the type of containers listed in the proposed ordinance, and confusion over recycling.

City officials said they have received complaints from citizens saying they have set aside recyclables and put them out for collection, only to see them picked up and thrown in with the rest of the trash.

“Our collectors do not intentionally throw recyclables in with trash,” Harford Sanitation’s Collins said.

The issue, Collins said, is recyclables are not always clearly marked, nor are they clearly separated, sometimes leaving trash collectors confused over what’s meant to be trash and what’s meant to be recyclables.

Residents need to do better not only sorting out the recyclables, but also clearly marking which is which to make it easier for those picking up at the curbs.

“It has improved,” Collins said, “but we still need to work on our residents.”

That comment prompted the mayor to seek further clarification from the head of the city’s trash collection service.

“Can you explain to our citizens why they can’t put recyclables in plastic bags?” Martin asked.

The answer was simple: It’s not the job of those picking up the bags to know if something stashed in a plastic bag is meant to be trash, or if it’s recycling.

“It’s impossible for our guys to sort through that stuff,” Collins said, explaining why residents see collectors picking up their recycling and disposing of them with the trash.

The city’s website has guidelines for how and what to recycle, including how to clearly mark containers as recycling. There are strict limits on what can’t be recycled, most notably, pizza boxes.

“The control on contaminants is going to get stricter and stricter,” Collins said. “If they have any food contaminants on them, they can’t be recycled.”

As for what to put those recyclables in, it’s preferred, but not required, that residents get blue recycling containers from the trash hauler, which makes the receptacle compatible with lifting mechanisms on the back of the trucks.

That makes it safer and easier for those doing the heavy lifting from the curb into the back of the trucks.

“We like it to be less than 45 pounds,” Collins said about the weight limit for trash or recyclables per container.

“The more you can make it known what’s inside, the better,” he added.

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