Recycling advocates hope people don't miss the point as arguments pile up over proposed increases for handling trash, said James L. Thomas, chairman of the Recycling Committee and a Westminster acupuncturist.

"Our point to the county has been to try to stay focused on whywe're doing recycling," he said. "It seems like we're getting lost and forgetting the long-term goal of waste minimization."

Waste minimization means not just recycling but reducing the amount of trash overall. For example, Thomas said, people who shop can choose products that don't have excess packaging or which can be recycled easily.

But with officials and haulers spending so much time and energy on the handling part, they're spending less to educate people about reducing trash in the first place, Thomas said.

The proposed tipping fee increases or a new solid waste tax to residents would include a small surcharge to help pay for a pilot curbside recycling program for 7,500 homes. County officials haven't chosen which neighborhoods would be in the pilot program.

"One of the downfalls is all of this has to be decided by the (county) budget hearings. I wonderif some decision is going to be reached based on desperation insteadof what's a good plan,"Thomas said.

Generally, he said, an increase in tipping fees or a solid waste tax will remind residents that handling trash has a financial and environmental cost.

"If tipping fees increase, it makes other alternatives become economically competitive," he said. So if people won't reuse, recycle and compost becauseit's the right thing to do, they might do it to save money, he said.

He said an ideal incentive would be for haulers to charge by the can or bag for trash pickup, instead of a straight fee. Families thatmake an effort to reduce waste could see direct benefits in a lower trash bill.

"Unfortunately, it's a complicated procedure," Thomas said of a by-the-can charge from haulers.

In some parts of the country, municipalities have started selling special trash bags for 50 cents or $1, which residents have to use for their trash.

Recyclingbags and containers, however, are free. So the resident can only save money by making sure an aluminum can goes into the free bag, then is sent to a recycling center and eventually made into a new can.

But Thomas isn't sure that idea would go over in Carroll County, wherepeople generally don't like their government to tell them what to do.

"I think people will flip, personally, if they're forced to buy certain bags," said Thomas, a Carroll County native who lives in Taneytown.

The same goes for making recycling mandatory, instead of voluntary, as it is now.

"Maybe it needs at some point to be a mandatory program, but I would like to see it voluntary at first," Thomas said. "Why start a war if you can build a better consensus than that?"

So far, county officials talk only of voluntary programs. James E. Slater Jr., director of the county Department of Natural ResourcesProtection, has already gotten strong messages that residents would rebel against mandatory recycling.

He said a man called him once to say that if the program were ever made mandatory, he would sabotageit by sneaking an aluminum can in each of his neighbors' trash cans.

But Slater and other county officials say something will have to change if Carroll is to meet the state mandate of recycling 15 percent of its solid waste by January 1994. The Recycling Committee hopes to exceed the 15 percent.

In late 1989, the county found it was recycling 3 percent of its waste, said Dwight A. Copenhaver, recycling manager.

At the time, most recycling came from residents' taking aluminum cans, newspapers, corrugated cardboard and white office paper to the county recycling barn on Route 97, he said.

During Earth Day festivities in April 1990, the county introduced the 11 red recycling bins placed now in all Carroll towns. By the end of the year, recycling had increased to 6 percent.

But Slater said the bins have reached their peak -- the county needs to have curbside pickup at leastin some areas to meet the 15 percent goal.

Also, residents have to shake loose the notion that grass clippings, branches and leaves are garbage, said Thomas. Homeowners or the county can compost those organic materials to make mulch, he said.

Jack Curran, chief of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management, said composting also will be necessary to meet the 15 percent goal -- recycling just the plastic and glass bottles, metal cans and paper won't be enough, he said, because those materials don't make up enough of the trash stream.

Thomas said that in addition to composting and the traditional recycling of household waste, industry also can find ways to reuse trash.

He saidone Carroll County contractor is looking at such options as turning concrete rubble from demolition sites into a crushed product that canbe used on new roads.

"We're looking at how to create new economic opportunities for what was first perceived as waste products," Thomas said.

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