SNOW HILL — There’s a chance that Worcester County could make recycling mandatory as soon as next year, assuming public opinion is behind the change.
“This is something that has to be done,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who was the most vocal supporter of making recycling in the county mandatory at a budget meeting this week. “We should either be in it, or out of it. We don’t do real recycling.”
Jennifer Savage, the Enterprise Fund Controller of Worcester, agreed.
“We’re in a middle ground,” she admitted.
Commissioner Judy Boggs worried about the cost of such a big step, especially given the recession. She wondered how the county could afford to switch to full recycling if the price of recycled materials was down.
However, she learned that the value of raw materials produced by recycling had actually risen in the last few years, the opposite of what she expected.
“Everybody produces trash,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who added that it was everyone’s responsibility to keep things clean.
Whether or not that meant mandatory recycling though, he wasn’t sure.
“I think we should go full force into recycling,” said Gulyas. “If we’re going to do it, do it and do it right.”
According to Shockley, Worcester currently recycles about 20 percent of its waste. The cost to move that to 100 percent isn’t definitive at this point, but he guessed it would mean an extra $15-$20 added to resident property tax bills.
Gulyas was optimistic that fee would be received well by resident, stating that people would be “thrilled to death” to pay the extra money to make the county more environmentally friendly.
Shockley was less sure people would be willing to take the hit, especially with many households already in trouble financially. He did admit that something had to be done. He just wasn’t sure if residents would accept an additional fee.
Boggs expressed similar reservations. She pointed out that a recycling pilot project had been attempted about six years ago in West Ocean City.
“We lost our shirts on it,” she said.
While she echoed Shockley that something had to be done, she stressed that it had to be economically feasible. Boggs stated that she would support any recycling program as long as it “breaks even.”
Savage mentioned a “pay as you throw” trash policy that other areas were using. Instead of paying a flat fee for a dumping permit, residents would be charged by how much trash they deposit at landfills and transfer stations. Both Boggs and Shockley expressed interest in the idea.
“I would not be opposed to looking into that,” said Boggs of the idea. “It does encourage people to recycle.”
“We have the option to handle recycling better,” concluded Gulyas.
Gulyas admitted that it wouldn’t be cheap, but was confident that the returns would more than justified the expense. Gulyas mentioned that many residents of Ocean City were upset when the city chose to cancel its curbside recycling, some to a degree that they now go out of their way to deposit their recyclables at other locations. In her opinion, people in the county want recycling and see it as their duty to preserve the waterways and the forests for future generations.
While no consensus was reached, Shockley explained that a general outline of what could be done with recycling in Worcester had been formed. He said nothing else can be decided until a public hearing is held on the issue in June, where he hopes the commissioners will get enough public input to take the next step, whatever that may be.