Delaware Passes Landmark Universal Curbside Recycling Program

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A bill requiring trash haulers to provide curbside recycling pickup statewide is headed to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature. Photo: Delaware.gov

In a historic event, the Delaware House and Senate have passed a bill to institute an unprecedented universal curbside recycling program that is now awaiting Governor Jack Markell’s signature. Senate Bill 234 passed the House on May 10 and will eliminate the state’s bottle deposit program.

By repealing the bottle deposit program, the former fee of 5 cents on all beer and soda cans will be reduced to 4 cents per individual container.

This fee is intended to provide the startup money for the recycling program and will begin on Dec. 1 of this year, lasting until Dec. 1, 2014 wherein it will expire after raising an estimated $22 million in startup funds.

While individuals will not be required to participate in this recycling program, waste collection providers will be mandated by law to offer these curbside recycling services to their residential customers by 2013 and to their commercial customers by 2014.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control will also provide grants to municipalities in control of their own trash collection as well as to private waste hauling businesses.

This is intended to balance the costs involved in increasing the amount of trucks and bins that will be necessary to make this universal recycling program a success.

The bill has not been entirely without its share of controversy. Criticizers have argued that Senate Bill 234 is unconstitutional. Minority Leader Representative Richard C. Cathcart says the bill was not generated by the House, as is required for revenue-generating bills. He also protested that the universal 4-cent fee is not applied uniformly to all bottle and container types.

“I believe and our legal counsel believes there are some significant constitutional challenges. I believe as soon as the governor signs it, there’s going to be a lawsuit,” Cathcart told the Middletown Transcript.

On the other hand, Governor Markell has full faith that the bill will have no trouble being introduced to the state.

“It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the state’s pocket book,” he said. “We’re very pleased that in the Senate and the House there was support from both Democrats and Republicans.”

The governor’s statement is supported by the confidence State Environmental Secretary Collin O’Mara has in the bill. He believes that despite the fluctuating prices of recycled materials, it is still significantly cheaper for Delawareans to participate in this universal recycling program than to pay money for traditional waste collection plans, such as landfill expansions or garbage tipping fees.

“Even on its worst day, recycling is still a more cost-effective alternative,” O’Mara explained to Businessweek. “When you put things in a landfill, you’re not getting any value out of it.”

The bill would also force the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) to transfer its subsidy of the state’s curbside recycling program to municipalities and private businesses. This includes the reassignment of any recycling bins and resources that can be used to aid the new bill.

As a consequence of this new bill, the agency will likely lose revenue due to decreased garbage tipping fees at state landfills, though these losses may very well be offset by the reduced demand for recycling collection services.

According to Michael Parkowski, a representative at the DSWA, the agency aims to reduce the amount of trash disposed of in landfills from 850,000 tons to 550,000 tons over a period of 10 years.

Just as the likelihood of landfill expansion gets smaller, the future looks bright for recycling in the state of Delaware. In order for the bill to be enforced, officials estimate that an additional 230,000 recycling bins and 50 collection trucks will need to be purchased.

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Recycling Programs Losing Money, But Residents Are Still Paying

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