Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer will recommend a major expansion in the county's mandatory recycling program today that would require 75,000 homes in the southern part of the county to separate glass, metal and aluminum containers from household trash for curbside pickup.
The plan, which Kramer will present to the County Council, would be the first of its kind in the region. It also would expand Montgomery's current mandatory newspaper recycling beyond those 75,000 households, which are already required to bundle newspapers at curbside. Newspaper recycling would be required in some densely populated areas of the fast-growing upper county, and recycling of paper supplies also would be mandated for most county businesses.
The county would provide residents with a large container for the glass, metal and aluminum, which would be trucked to a separation and processing plant to be built at Shady Grove, at a cost of $3 million to $5 million, according to Kramer's plan.
For the 75,000 households in Bethesda, Silver Spring, Wheaton and other affected communities, the new program would require residents to maintain three receptacles: bundles or bags for newspapers; containers for glass, metal and aluminum; and garbage cans for remaining household trash and garbage.
The ambitious program is designed to reap environmental and financial benefits by separating recyclable materials from the county's daily stream of refuse. This reduction in trash flow would help conserve valuable landfill space and reduce the need to incinerate massive amounts of trash. The county will receive income by selling recycled materials, but it will be offset by the expenses of running the program.
Montgomery County currently recycles, through public and private programs, about 13 percent of the 550,000 tons of trash it generates each year, and Kramer wants to reach a goal of 22 percent.
"It's achievable," Kramer said in an interview yesterday. "We have learned so much about the downside of landfilling and mass burning that I believe the people of Montgomery County will make the additional sacrifice."
Three states -- New Jersey, Rhode Island and Oregon -- have pioneered various forms of state-mandated recycling, and scores of communities have similar programs, particularly among New England states.
The District -- on the heels of the defeat of the bottle bill initiative -- is considering a bill that would require residents to separate newspapers and yard waste from trash. The bill would later provide for recycling of other materials such as metal, bottles and glass.
Kramer's recommendation to increase the scale and scope of recycling in the county comes in the aftermath of a bitter debate last summer over the decision to build by 1990 a $170 million trash-to-energy incinerator in rural Dickerson in western Montgomery.
Opponents of the mass burner had argued that the county, with its one landfill at Laytonsville getting closer to capacity each day, could solve its garbage problem by increasing recycling efforts. The council, while approving construction of the new incincerator, also directed Kramer to report back with recommendations on how to recycle from 15 to 30 percent of the county's trash.
John L. Menke, the county's director of environmental protection, said that a mandatory program is the only way to achieve the goals outlined by the county. He stressed, however, that mandatory does not necessarily mean punitive and the county will rely on education and the innate good citizenship of residents, rather than penalties, to reach its goals.
"Recycling only works to the extent that people know about it and are willing to participate," Menke said. He made a comparision to seat belts. "It's the law that you wear them, but there are few fines. But because it is the law, people use them and lives are saved."
So, Menke said, "The answer is no, we won't put you in the pokey if we find your discarded sixpack in the bottom of your trash can." Currently, residents in the southern part of the county can be fined for failing to recycle newspapers, but the county has never invoked the fines.
The new proposal would include a provision for a fine, probably $25 or $50, but it is unlikely the county would enforce fines, Menke said.
The requirement that homeowners separate cans and bottles would apply in the southern part of the county where Montgomery contracts private haulers to collect the waste from single-family houses and units of up to six households. Since 1979, this collection district has been involved in the mandatory newspaper recycling program.
According to a recently completed recycling feasibility study, 75,413 of 115,570 households in the district are covered by the county collection and recycling program.
Outside the collection district, individual residents of an estimated 128,131 households contract private haulers or haul their own trash. The dual system is a holdover from the era in which most of the population lived in the southern part of the county and it was not cost-effective for the county to coordinate garbage collection for a sparse, rural population.
That has changed and there is pressure on the county either to expand the collection district or to require recycling in the more densely populated areas, such as Germantown. Kramer said he will recommend newspaper recycling in such areas, but the specific boundaries are still being worked out.
Kramer said he wants to institute parts of the program as soon as possible, probably within six months. However, Menke said the curbside separation program could not begin until the county constructs the processing plant and finds markets for recycled material.
Menke said he does not expect much opposition to building a small plant at Shady Grove, where the county's garbage transfer facility is located.
Kramer said he expects a lively debate, both from residents who would not want to be inconvenienced, and those who want a larger recycling goal. Dickerson residents want more recycling so a smaller burner would be built.
Alexandria also requires residents to separate newspapers from other trash. Fairfax instituted a newspaper recycling program in July, but only 36,000 of its estimated 254,000 homes have county collection and are affected.