The county's long-awaited curbside recycling plan arrived Thursday in a leaky blue plastic bag.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann demonstrated how Harford residents can begin sorting their garbage intothe blue recyclable bags under the proposal she will send to the County Council Tuesday.

"The blue bags are coming," she said before loading four sacks ofseparated newspapers, lawn clippings, glass bottles and aluminum cans into a trash compacting truck at the Waste-To-Energy Facility on Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The problem was, not all of the bags survived the truck's pneumatic press after Rehrmann finished her pitch for the voluntary program.

One bag tore and leaked grass on the groundwhen Harford Sanitation Service vice president Bob Hooper pulled it from the truck. A second bag burst asunder, spilling a stack of newspapers.

"The weight of the newspapers might be a problem," said Hooper.

He suggested filling the plastic bags more loosely to allow some breathing room in the trash compacter.

The messy demonstrationprovided an example of the education campaign the county must undertake to meet a state mandate to recycle 15 percent of its garbage flowby 1994.

Residents will have to learn how to sort their garbage and how to pack it in the bags left on the curb. Trash haulers also will have to leave enough room in their trucks for the blue bags so that the recyclable products will survive the trip to the Magnolia plant.

The energy plant will be responsible for selling the recovered materials to Alcoa Aluminum in Columbia, Browning-Ferris Industries inLinthicum, and other Mid-Atlantic manufacturers and recycling brokers.

Every household would have to pay a monthly recycling fee of about $2 on top of its regular trash service charge, averaging $8. But because participation is voluntary, Rehrmann said neighborhood and civic groups will have to lead the way in changing people's disposal habits.

"We need to be as aggressive in our recycling as possible," said Rehrmann, whose goal is to cut the county's waste by 25 percent.

That would be accomplished with the voluntary residential recycling effort and a new campaign to reduce commercial garbage through recycling, which would be conducted by Harford's private Susquehannock Environmental Center, the oldest recycling facility in the nation.

Harford has to scramble to catch up with its Baltimore-area neighbors, most of which began phasing in recycling two years ago. The county is even farther behind Montgomery County, where curbside newspaper sorting has been mandatory for over a decade.

Rehrmann's plan would avoid the incremental approach taken elsewhere by making residential curbside pick-up of recyclables available countywide Jan. 20, Susquehannock's 20th birthday.

And the county would enjoy a cost advantage because private companies take care of all garbage collection.

But the recycling program will cost about $1.8 million to launch, a cost that would include more than $800,000 for expansion of the composting program at the county's Scarboro Landfill and purchasing sorting machinery at the quasi-public waste-to-energy plant, which converts non-recyclable trash into steam for Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The county has been negotiating to sell the base more steam so the $27 million plant can be expanded to handle more waste.

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