Instead of treating trash and recyclables as a burden, start viewing them as a resource - that's the basic advice the county's Solid Waste Workgroup delivered to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners Tuesday in a presentation of the group's final report.
The workgroup was formed in March by Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, to research solid waste strategies that the county could pursue as an alternative to the bi-county incinerator planned to be built with Frederick County.
"It is clear to the Solid Waste Workgroup that the county must reframe the concept of waste away from something that must be buried, burned or hauled away to a resource that can be converted into a revenue stream," Don West, of the workgroup, read to the board from the report.
The workgroup developed eight short-term recommendations, ranging from multiple efforts to increase the county's recycling rate to 80 percent by 2018 to establishing a material recovery facility where the county can sort and process incoming waste to reclaim recyclables for sale to end-use manufacturers.
In addition, the report has two long-term recommendations: going a step further to develop a resource recovery park at the landfill, complete with a commercial composting operation and construction and demolition recycling program, and continue to research and evaluate developing conversion technologies to process waste that cannot be recycled.
The workgroup recommended setting a firm waste-reduction goal for the county at 80 percent and publicizing that goal, similar to the way the county has set a firm goal of preserving 100,000 agricultural acres in the county's agricultural land preservation program.
"A clearly identifiable number will aid in education and marketing efforts and give residents an incentive to reduce the amount of waste entered into the waste stream," the authors wrote in the report.
The county had a 46.17 percent recycling rate in 2010, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, R-District 2, questioned whether the workgroup thought an 80 percent recycling rate was realistic.
Workgroup member Karen Leatherwood explained that the 80 percent would be the goal for the reporting system used by the MDE, which gives counties credits for educational and waste diversion efforts. In a more practical way of evaluating recycling rates, county residents are probably recycling about 25 percent of their household solid waste, West said, but could easily accomplish 50 to 60 percent recycling.
An economic incentive to encourage recycling would be to institute volume-based billing, also known as pay-as-you-throw, for residential customers.
Under a volume-based billing system, those who dispose of more solid waste pay more and those who dispose of less pay less. Since the county does not charge for recycling brought to the landfill, households would have a financial incentive to sort more of their waste into what can and cannot be recycled, since they too would only have to pay for the non-recyclable waste.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, communities that have instituted volume based billing have seen an average between 32 and 59 percent increase in their recycling rates due to implementation of these programs.
In addition to diverting recyclables out of the waste stream, the workgroup is recommending collecting food waste scraps from grocery stores, restaurants, institutions and schools to be composted along with the county's yard waste, rather than disposing of it as trash.
Done on a modest scale with most of the county's commercial waste producers participating, the county could expect to divert up to 20 percent of its waste stream by removing organics from the landfilling operations to a compost system, according to the report, creating a useful, nutrient-rich product with the results rather than adding to the costs of waste disposal.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, showed particular interest in the workgroup's recommendation to create a material recovery facility at the landfill.
"What obstacles are in the way of greenlighting that?" he asked, mentioning the possibility of a six-month time frame.
The easiest way to pursue a material recovery facility would be to designate a part of the landfill property for that purpose, put out a request for proposals to the private sector to see who would be interested in building and operating the facility where trash coming in could be sorted to pull more recyclable materials out of the bulk waste, Leatherwood said.
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Commissioner Dave Rousch, R-District 3, questioned how these extra goods would be marketed and hauled, concerned about what the net profit of such an operation might be.
Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, R-District 1, said she liked the idea of bringing in more private sector companies, and visualized the renamed resource recovery park as being an incubator of sorts for innovative ways of handling waste and making a profit from the valuable items within it.
Leatherwood agreed, and pointed out that the work group suggests the county keep up with developing technologies - and avoid locking itself into a large-scale incinerator deal that would tie the county into a single option for decades to come.
"There's a lot of innovation out there and a lot of potential, and we'd like to see Carroll County take advantage of these innovations as they become available," West said.
Howard thanked the group for its hard work and said that the commissioners would like to discuss the report and its recommendations with county staff and then go from there.
West said he would like to see the commissioners adopt the plan in its entirety, but said that even if they only chose to pursue portions of the plan, he believes it could do a lot of good for the county. Rothschild asked West and Leatherwood what they thought the most important or pressing recommendations were, and West answered he would like to see the commissioners rename Northern Landfill as the Carroll Resource Recovery Park.
"I think it would set the trend for what the emphasis there is going to be, and I think that could be very big," he said.