Digging up bones and banana peels Gary's search for new trash disposal methods makes sense.


IS ANNE ARUNDEL County Executive John G. Gary living in a dream world, thinking he can avoid building a new landfill or incinerator? He wants to dig up unlined portions of the Millersville landfill, sell the metals buried there and reclaim the land for a composting plant.

He may be onto something. The cost of landfilling ($1 million an acre), the nightmare of siting landfills and the environmental problems they cause makes the search for alternatives imperative. Historically, the most common option has been incineration, but that's also unpopular, environmentally suspect and financially risky.

Governments should be doing everything possible to avoid these traditional disposal methods. Until recently, composting and recycling amounted to little more than a supplement to landfilling or burning, but that is changing. Separating recyclables already reduces a significant portion of the waste stream in Maryland. Though still in the experimental stage, municipal composting is looking less like an environmentalist's pipe dream and more like a workable solution to trash problems.

Yes, plenty of details -- whether plants should be regional or county-owned, how they would be financed, how the product would be marketed or disposed of -- must be worked out. But governments in other states that are using certain composting technologies are finding they can get rid of up to 70 percent of their trash this way; garbage that doesn't break down obviously still must be buried or burned.

Mr. Gary has hired a consultant to look at his idea to mine Millersville. Potential problems exist as far as the cost of excavation and the potential for unearthing hazardous and smelly waste. But the negatives of landfilling and burning are so huge that governments must consider other options. Mining, if it works, could save the county the cost of cleaning up pollution at Millersville, as well as the cost of a site for a composting plant. If Millersville can't be mined, a site for a composting plant still would be far less expensive and difficult to find than a location for a landfill. And even if the market is limited for the dirt composting produces, dirt is still easier, safer and cheaper for the county to bury than incinerator ash and the stuff it now dumps at Millersville.

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