Legislators host forum on yard waste disposal and recycling

More than 100 people turned out to discuss yard waste and curbside recycling at the Millville Volunteer Fire Company last week – and they came armed with plenty of questions. State Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th) and state Sen. George Bunting (D-20th) hosted the forum, and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) representative Jim Short spoke, as did Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) representative Mike Parkowski.

According to DNREC, yard waste has made up nearly a quarter of the residential waste that goes into landfills, and officials hope to divert an estimated 30,000 tons of yard waste each year with the new ban on putting it into landfills, which was implemented earlier this year. That could have many benefits, including extending the life of the landfills, protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change.

“Recycling yard waste into mulch and compost provides economic and environmental benefits, as well – by creating jobs, increasing the local production of commercial landscape products and producing healthier soils and plants,” noted Short.

New Castle County banned yard waste in its landfills in 2008, and Kent and Sussex counties followed suit. Yard waste can still be brought to the landfill sites for disposal, but it cannot be co-mingled with trash and doesn’t join household trash in the landfill. Homeowners can, alternatively, compost it, contract with a waste hauler to pick it up or choose a number of other options for disposal.

With the passage of the state’s universal recycling bill – a bill neither Hocker nor Bunting voted for – came even more change to how Delaware residents handle their trash. Waste haulers were required by the law to offer customers curbside recycling service by Sept. 15, 2011. While homeowners are not required to recycle, the thought process, said Short, was that offering it to everybody was the most cost effective, and the most likely, way to get people to recycle.

Several people commented on a perceived lack of logic in that, asking why the haulers are required to provide containers to homeowners who are not then required to use them.

Hocker said that was precisely one of the reasons he could not vote for the bill, adding that he was “tickled to death” about the bottle return part of the bill. He said that, out of 62 legislators, he stood to gain more financially with that aspect of the bill than anyone, but he still couldn’t support the bill the way it was written.

Other people lamented the “triple whammy” of the bill, with higher trash disposal costs, including added recycling fees, and now having to pay to dispose of yard waste. They said it was not well thought-out to ban yard waste before having a concrete plan in place as to what to do with it. They pointed out what they they were paying for trash and recycling, compared to before the bill went into effect.

Parkowski said people need to do their due diligence with waste haulers and bargain to get the best prices. He said things in New Castle County are “shaking out” and some people are actually paying less now than they were before.

Several residents commented on the inequity of comparing New Castle to Sussex, where a less dense population increases the costs of providing such services and where the many seasonal visitors might not understand or abide by the new rules.

“It is change, and we are in the difficult stage,” said Short. “But hang in there.”

Bunting said they will continue to look into changes that can made, and he encouraged Sussex County residents to write the governor, and send a copy of those letters to the legislators, with their grievances and ideas.

“You have got to speak out and make people aware that there is an issue,” he said.

For more information on yard waste disposal, visit http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/yardwaste/Pages/Default.aspx online.

Yard waste disposal options available to property owners include:

• Compost or mulch on your own property, including grass-cycling and using a mulching lawn mower.

• Haul it yourself to a commercial facility that accepts yard waste.

• Have someone else handle your yard waste.

• Contact your waste hauler for options they may offer.

• Contact a landscaping/lawn service.

• Contact a local recycler.

• Develop a community-wide solution by creating your town or community’s own yard waste site.

For more recycling information, visit www.recycling.delaware.gov.