For several weeks, Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young has worked to educate the public about the cost of recycling trash.
Young (R) used his column in The Tentacle, an online website of local columnists, other media, emails and letters to the editor to explain why he thinks the county’s popular recycling program should be re-evaluated. He argues that the program is expensive and may not be worth the environmental benefits.
“I’m just trying to educate the public on how the system works,” Young said Friday. “That’s my concern. ... Recycling makes us feel good about Mother Earth, but it’s more environmental than profitable.”
The county spent $3.2 million in calendar year 2011 to pick up recycled items from 74,000 single-family homes.
That figure does not include the costs of transporting the materials to a processing center in Prince George’s County, Phil Harris, superintendent of the county Department of Solid Waste Management, said in an email.
Nor does the figure include the electricity, maintenance, repairs and other costs the county pays. And it cost another $1.3 million just to process the materials, which does not include the $785,400 the county pays on a loan for the blue, 65-gallon wheeled carts in which residents toss their recyclables.
In return, the county made just $2.9 million selling the recyclables to industrial users nationally and internationally.
Young said he knows of no business that would run its operation at a loss.
“What business would go into business to lose money?” he asked.
Young insists that he has no current plan to eliminate the county’s curbside recycling program. But if Carroll County backs out of its partnership with Frederick County in building a controversial “waste-to-energy” incinerator, the recycling program will have to be re-evaluated, he said.
Frederick and Carroll counties have been partners in building the incinerator since 2009, but Carroll County has indicated it wants out of the project. Looking for another partner, Frederick County officials have been in talks with Howard, Prince George’s and Washington counties.
“At some point we have to discuss [recycling],” he said. “Whatever direction we go with waste-to-energy, and this all falls apart, and we do go back to the drawing board, we can discuss it.”
The Maryland Department of the Environment is currently completing the permitting stage of the incinerator project, which it expects to be done by the end of the year.
But one vocal opponent of the incinerator, who is also in favor of recycling, thinks Young’s campaign is ultimately to do away with the recycling program.
“Commissioner Young claims to being open to suggestions,” said Caroline Eader of Frederick. “Well, I sent him an email a couple of weeks ago, offering to give him help. But instead he yammers on about how expensive recycling is. Therefore, I do think he is using fear tactics to eventually do away with the recycling program.”
Young said he will consider any suggestions, including Eader’s, on how to cut the costs of curbside recycling.
The county rolled out its curbside recycling program in January of 2009.
In calendar year 2009, the county collected 17,154 tons of recyclables. That number jumped to 19,085 tons in 2010 and 19,770 tons in 2011. As of July this year, the county has picked up 11,627 tons of trash for recycling, Harris said.
“Since the inception of the single-stream collection, the tons to date of collected material has continued to rise slightly each year as well as the number of eligible homes,” Young said.
County property owners do fund some of the recycling costs in the form of an annual “System Benefit Charge” of $88 per house.
But that money is pooled with the fees collected by residents and trucking companies dropping off trash at the county landfill on Reich’s Ford Road in Frederick. It goes primarily to pay the county’s costs to truck trash to landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“No specific amount or portion of the SBC is applied to cover recycling costs,” Harris said.
The county currently pays $51.51 per ton to transport and dispose of trash at landfills outside Frederick. The county must truck its trash because its landfill is filled to capacity.