Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Jack Markell Proposes Universal Recycling for Delaware

Governor Jack Markell yesterday presented a plan for universal recycling that would put a recycling container in front of every household in Delaware. The proposal looks promising, economically and politically.
First, the economics: Landfills are not renewable resources, which means the cost of simply burying our trash has nowhere to go but up. The Delaware Solid Waste Authority's tipping fees (the price per ton to dump) are due to go up sharply to cover current fixed and operating costs.

But if you think the current landfill is expensive, consider the next one. The cost of replacing Cherry Island landfill was estimated in 2006 to be $109 million. The eventual cost is likely to be several hundred million dollars—if a site can be found anywhere in New Castle County. Using a quick back of the envelope calculation, I estimate that we would save several million in today's dollars for every year we postpone replacing Cherry Island.
The problem is that these savings aren't sitting in a fund somewhere. We have to find the means to create them by investing in recycling infrastructure today. This is where the Un-bottle Bill comes in. Bottlers, distributors and retailer want it repealed. Markell vetoed HB 201 last year, saying, "I believe we need to review this issue in a larger context that takes into consideration the environment, the industry and Delaware taxpayers."
Under Markell's proposal, the 5 cent deposit would be replaced by a 5 cent container fee (eventually dropping to 2 cents) that would be used to fund the upfront and ongoing costs of providing statewide recycling. Bottlers, distributors and retailers would no longer be burdened with the onerous chore of collecting, stockpiling and recycling bottles. This most inefficient method of recycling, which requires handling every step of the way, would be replaced by promoting single stream collection, which requires much less handling.
By making it easy for households to recycle, we should reduce their net landfilling cost by about a third, which is Wilmington's diversion rate after two years of curbside collection. At the end of the day, households should not see any net increase in costs above the anticipated increase in tipping fees.
Markell's proposal looks promising politically as well. Sen. David McBride and Rep. Michael Mulrooney, the relevant committee chairs, are on board. Rep. John Viola, who sponsored HB 201, voiced his support yesterday. I know other legislators are ready to sign on.
As the News Journal reports, there is still resistance from the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Beverage Association:
Ellen Valentino, the group's vice president, said state recognition of the deposit law's problems are encouraging, but "we are disappointed to learn that he is proposing a container tax as an alternative funding source."
Fine, perhaps you would like your bottles back. If you want those empties out of the back of your store, this is the way to get it done. I don't think the 5 cent fee will affect buying habits much. The deposit has been in place for roughly three decades, and most consumers hardly notice it at the checkout line.
Waste haulers are solidly on board:
"I think all the waste haulers together are very strongly behind this proposal. It provides us all with an opportunity to compete and provide a service on an equal basis," said Tom Houska, senior district manager for Waste Management of Delaware, the state's and nation's largest waste company. "It has the best chance of anything I've seen in a long, long time."
Representatives of the locally owned waste hauling industry have willing, even eager, participants in efforts to create a statewide recycling program over the last year. They want to find a way to do this.
This is a big proposal that deserves much more economic and political analysis. Stay tuned.


Anonymous pandora said...

As a city resident I love the recycling program. It's so convenient, and I can't believe how much we recycle now.

Before recycling came to Wilmington we would take some of our recycling to the bins behind Baynard Stadium. We thought we were doing a good job with our 2-3 times a month drop off, but we really weren't - compared with the amount we're recycling now.

And returning bottles to the liquor store was a joke. It was obvious they didn't want them back, and a lot of stores (one in particular on Rt 54 in Fenwick) went out of their way to make the process ridiculously difficult.

This proposal strikes me as a no-brainer.

9:30 AM, January 06, 2010  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

It may seem a no brainer in retropect, but getting all the pieces to work together was no easy task.

I and others have been wondering how to close the loop on the economics. The biggest question I have been contemplating is how to get the long term cost savings from recycling down to the curbside.

9:56 AM, January 06, 2010  
Anonymous pandora said...

You're correct, but "getting all the pieces to work together" strikes me as inevitable step of any new idea. And it ain't easy, but it is necessary.

You've done a massive amount of work on issues like this, wouldn't it be great if people just accepted the hurdles as part of the process rather than a reason to throw up their hands and cry, "It's too much work, so let's forget about it."

Every one of my neighbors love the curbside recycling program, and they'd fight to keep it. Just another case of people not knowing what they were missing until they were offered an alternative.

10:39 AM, January 06, 2010  
Anonymous Dave said...


1) Will it be free for the consumer?

2) If the administration is going to tax bottles to pay for recycling, why not tax newspapers, cans, cardboard, magazines, etc.? Why pick on glass?

12:54 PM, January 06, 2010  
Anonymous LiberalGeek said...

Glass and plastic, actually.

2:34 PM, January 06, 2010  
Anonymous Dave said...

Okay, why tax only glass and plastic?

5:13 PM, January 06, 2010  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

I can think of two reasons why the proposal would place a fee on glass and plastic bottles, and not on other packaging:

1. The fee would replace the current deposit. Consumers wouldn't see any change at the cash register, and retailers wouldn't be put at any new disadvantage.

2. Retailers, bottlers, and distributors would have to get on board with the proposal if they want to get out of the bottle collection and recycling business.

The net result is that retailers would not face any new competitive disadvantage, and would have an incentive to support the proposal.

10:32 PM, January 06, 2010  

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