In its recent vote approving a new 10-year plan for solid-waste disposal, the Baltimore County Council was wise to increase the jurisdiction's recycling commitment from the current state-mandated goal of 20 percent of the waste stream by 1994 to 50 percent by 1997.
The council was equally prudent, and gutsy, to kill a measure that would have banned construction of any new incinerator in the county. Except for Fifth District Councilman Vince Gardina, the members chose to leave room for trash-burning, despite knowing how politically hazardous it can be to take anything other than a hostile view of incinerators. By its action, the council conveyed the message that recycling is essential but can be only one component of an overall waste-disposal strategy.
What should such a plan entail, in Baltimore County and beyond?
Recycling, of course, should be a key element of the strategy, although a large American market for recyclable waste remains undeveloped. The creation of new landfills and incinerators, taboo to most in the environmental community, should also be included in a disposal plan, particularly now that updated technologies enable landfills and incinerators to be operated much more cleanly than their predecessors.
Like Baltimore County, other local jurisdictions are trying to decide how to dispose of their ever-growing mountains of garbage. Talk about a waste of energy! Instead of hatching individual plans that might be at odds with one another, the Baltimore area jurisdictions would do well to devise one strategy that is regional in scope.
Here's a prime opportunity for the new Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) to show if it can get the sort of results that eluded the late and not-much lamented Regional Council of Governments. Joined under the BMC banner, local officials could coordinate recycling efforts; attempt to develop or find local, national and even international markets for recyclable waste; place the minimum number of landfills and incinerators needed where they would have the least negative impact; and then publicly present the package in a manner that brings citizens into the team spirit of the campaign.
Every jurisdiction has waste in common. It's about time local governments came together with common goals and methods for the safe, sane disposal of waste.