But financial reality quickly set in.
Returning to two-day-a-week trash collection would have cost between $7 million and $10 million and meant renegotiating contracts with 15 garbage companies.
Alsobrooks asked her Department of the Environment to come up with a more fiscally responsible option, which she is rolling out at town hall meetings.
She says the county will expand its 200-household composting pickup program to include 3,000 homes next fiscal year — a tiny sliver in a county of more than 900,000 residents.
The program, which offers weekly curbside pickup of food scraps that are then taken to a central composting facility, will grow over three years to include all households that want to participate, said acting county environmental director Joe Gill.
“We had to get very innovative with this problem,” Alsobrooks said last week in Chillum, Md. “I think you’re going to be pleased with what we came up with.”
The $200,000 program is one of the more innovative parts of the $4.21 billion budget that Alsobrooks proposed, which the county council must approve by June 1. That funding will cover 3,000 35-gallon carts and 1½-gallon food pails for food scraps, along with mailings and advertisements to teach residents about composting.
Equipment will be distributed in November, if the budget is approved, Gill said.
There were 148 curbside collection programs in jurisdictions across the country in 2017 — up from 79 in 2014 — according to BioCycle magazine. Takoma Park, University Park and parts of Howard County are among the places that offer it.
In Prince George’s, food waste will be collected on Mondays along with yard waste, and taken to the county’s composting facility, which is one of the largest municipal composting facilities on the East Coast.
The food pails, which come with lids, can be kept in the refrigerator, on the counter or under sinks. Food waste and yard trim can be mixed.
As Alsobrooks described the program in broad strokes at the Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center, there was clapping — but also some crossed arms and raised eyebrows.
“I’m all about it, but it’s going to take people forever to get used to it,” said Andrew Carter, a 36-year-old Lewisdale resident who sat in the second row. “People don’t even recycle properly right now.”
Sarah Cavitt, president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, echoed the importance of educating the public, noting that she recently toured Prince George’s recycling facility and was astounded by the amount of non-recyclable material that ended up there.
“If she can really pull it off, I completely agree with it,” Cavitt said of Alsobrooks’s composting proposal. “But I need to know more.”
Cavitt is an environmentalist who supported the move to once-a-week trash collection, which, in addition to saving money, helped reduce emissions and promote recycling. She said she did not realize until the election-season uproar how politically charged an issue trash collection could be.
“It’s one of the most divisive issues in the county,” she said.
At the town hall in Chillum, residents’ concerns were mostly about logistics.
“I don’t have any room in my little kitchen for another piece of equipment,” said Imani Kazana, president of the Avonridge Community Development Corp., who wanted twice-a-week trash collection restored in the summer months.
She said garbage has piled up outside some of the larger households in her community since the second collection day was eliminated in 2017. Last summer, she had to wash maggots out of her trash bins.
“I might try composting in the summer just to avoid the maggots,” Kazana said. “I understand that we have precious resources, that money isn’t unlimited.”
A few seats away, Jo-Anne Butty, president of the Avondale/North Woodridge Citizens’ Association, said overflowing trash bins brought an uptick in raccoons.
“I’m all for being sustainable,” she said of the composting proposal. “It could work.”
In Camp Springs, Md., few residents have been told details of the new program, said civic association president John E. Bailey IV.
“The county executive campaigned on bringing back two-day trash pickup, so that’s what residents expect,” Bailey said. He added that the composting program “has potential,” if residents receive proper training and instructions.
Alsobrooks, a native Prince Georgian who campaigned on a promise to make government more responsive to residents, said trash collection “is a kind of meat-and-potatoes issue” for her constituents.
“This was a service they came to rely on,” she said.
She successfully pushed state lawmakers during the General Assembly session to pass legislation that will increase fines for illegal dumping and talks frequently at events and community meetings about efforts to beautify the county.
The proposed budget includes money for 15 new inspectors in the permitting and inspections department, which Alsobrooks says would help reduce blight and ensure that buildings are up to code.
Trash and litter, she adds, are some of the first things she hears about when she is shopping at Wegmans or getting coffee at 7-Eleven.
“What they told me is that if you don’t do something about this trash, we’re going to run you right out of Prince George’s,” Alsobrooks said at the town hall in Chillum.
In the crowd, there were laughs — and also nodding heads.
“I hope you all will be happy,” she said.