Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Time Has Come for Comprehensive Recycling in Delaware

Yesterday I mentioned that the General Assembly could act on a recycling bill, House Substitute 1 to House Bill 146, that would create a meaningful statewide recycling program in Delaware. There is a competing bill, HB 159, that is less far reaching, but would still go a long way to creating the infrastructure for statewide recycling. While either would be good for Delaware, the more comprehensive bill would create the greater environmental and economic benefits.
Here’s why:
First, landfills are expensive. As I pointed out in this analysis last year, the modest capital cost of a single stream recycling facility creates savings by postponing the need for siting and building an expensive new landfill down the road.
In my analysis, I cited estimates of the capital costs of a single stream recycling facility as being between $4.7 million and $8 million. I compared those to a published estimated cost of $106 million for a new landfill. That estimate is almost certainly low, considering that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) put the cost of raising the Cherry Island landfill by 23 feet at $86 million. For those keeping score, that’s $3.7 million for each additional foot of capacity. Now do I have your attention?
Even with these conservative cost estimates, I calculated that each dollar invested in a single stream recycling facility would create three to four dollars in present value savings.
Second, recycling depends on economies of scale in terms of capital investment and in collecting. As more material goes through a recycling facility, the facility become more cost effective; increasing the throughput of a fixed cost facility improves its operating efficiency.
As for collecting, consider the relative costs of Wilmington’s city-wide program versus the DSWA’s voluntary program. The city now collects recyclables from 28,000 households, at a maximum cost to the city of $150,000 (which is not charged to residents) for the coming fiscal year. If the city achieves 50 percent diversion, the net cost drops to zero. The maximum cost comes to roughly $6 per household per year.
Right now the DWSA offers curbside recycling, requiring residents to sort their material, for $3 a month. Why such a difference? Economies of scale.
The DWSA collectors might pick up one or two small bins on any given block in a neighborhood. Each time they do, the workers have to handle several different kinds of materials. They perform more work and collect less material than the city’s trash crews do.
The DSWA has tried incremental recycling, with incremental benefits at best. Wilmington has tried single stream recycling, and achieved a 37 percent diversion rate in less than a year.
The way to create greatest statewide benefits from recycling is to mandate the most comprehensive practicable program, which the General Assembly can do, not next year, but this week. But if you agree, you need to say so and now.
The General Assembly provides phone numbers and e-mail addresses for all senators and representatives. If you don't know who represents you, you can call to find out. Your call or e-mail doesn’t have to be complicated; all you have to say is that you want the General Assembly to adopt comprehensive statewide recycling in Delaware this week, and not next year.
Next up, I compare the two alternatives and look at how the mechanics of the legislative process could play out this week.


Blogger Paul Smith Jr. said...

One difference is that under Wilmington's plan, a private firm takes the recyclables and turns them in for their own profit. That helps reduce the cost to the City a great deal. It's more than jsut the economies of scale; it's a different plan all together, but one the state should look at if they're going to mandatory recycling. Plus, the "cash" (really funny money tradable for coupons) that the City residents get back is a great inducement to recycle.

The State should definitely look at that plan before putting a different solutoin involving mandatory recycling and fines.

2:13 PM, June 27, 2007  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

I'm sure Gerald Brady, who as a councilman advocated for the plan that Wilmington adopted, will refer to the city's success when the subject comes up this week in the House.

2:36 PM, June 27, 2007  
Blogger Paul Smith Jr. said...

I'm sure he will, but if they're rushing to get this done by end of session, then we may not have time to get it done the right way, with discussion and the like. Especially if that means completely rewriting a bill.

I'd rather put it off a bit and do it right than rush it.

3:47 PM, June 27, 2007  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

I don't agree. I think there has been enough time to work through the issues.

S1 to HB 146 is the result of these discussions. It's primary sponsors include two members each from the majority caucuses of both houses.

If enough members are uncomfortable with the bill, they can always revert to the less sweeping HB 159, which in itself would be a step forward.

But I think enough work has been done to move forward now rather than leave it for later.

4:02 PM, June 27, 2007  

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