Ocean City has touched a nerve with its move to turn away from its traditional recycling program in favor of a trendy waste-to-energy process.
It’s been a long time since we can remember the level of outrage from the public over an issue in Ocean City. Citizen input is always important, and the backlash over last week’s recycling move was predictable, and one man who understands that is Dick Malone, deputy director of the city’s vast Public Works Department.
In an interview last week, Malone, the city’s go-to man on recycling for years, admitted he was not initially sold on the plan to abandon the town’s recycling program in favor of a broader waste-to-energy conversion plan. Malone understands this is a public relations thing, and Ocean City is taking a beating on that front.
One irresponsible opinion piece from the metropolitan area even went so far as to question whether this move will discourage people from visiting Ocean City and instead head to Virginia Beach, which has retained its recycling program.
It’s a popular and comfortable position to oppose the move. After all, who doesn’t hate to see recyclables thrown in with other waste? It goes against everything that’s been preached for decades on the importance of sorting trash from plastics, aluminum, glasses and paper. We have all been trained and it’s just now starting to catch on.
This change will require some adjustment, but folks also need to understand the details. While it’s true Ocean City is no longer using employees to collect recyclables, it does not mean the city is not taking the effort to be green. The plan, which will save the town about $1 million annually, is to collect the trash and outsource its removal and handling to a Pennsylvania company. The trash will then be sorted by combustibles and noncombustibles, which include metals and glass. The combustibles will then be incinerated and the heat produced will be transformed into energy.
According to the city’s partner in this process, Covanta, the city’s solid waste will be transferred “into combustion chambers where it is reduced to 10% of its original volume in the process. The heat generated from the combustion chambers heats up water in steel tubes that form the walls of the combustion chambers. The water is turned to steam and sent through a turbine that continuously generates electricity.” The Department of Energy has weighed in on this process, saying, the process delivers, “important contributions to the overall effort to achieve increased renewable energy use and the many associated positive environmental benefits.”
An aspect critics are right on the money about is this decision was about money. The city needed to save money, and this change will do that to the tune of about $1 million over the next fiscal year. There’s no secret here – the decision was a fiscal one. However, it’s also worth realizing this move will actually increase the town’s recycling rate. Currently, the town recycles about 10 percent of its waste. The new process will result in about 70 percent of the trash undergoing a “re-purposing process.”
Malone is right no matter your view the bottom line is 70 percent of the town’s waste will in the future be used again for a purpose, one that produces renewable energy. That’s better than the status quo.