Bethany committee recommends recycling

Bethany Beach officials have until no later than Oct. 1 to decide if they want to begin a townwide recycling program, if they want to take advantage of current rates from the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, at $1 per pickup per residence.

DSWA’s Rich VonStetten, senior manager of statewide recycling, presented information on a proposed townwide recycling plan to members of the new Recycling Committee on Aug. 16, telling them that the deadline to sign a contract that would keep existing rates would be prior to Oct. 1.

VonStetten said he did not expect that legislation aiming at mandatory recycling statewide would be passed in the near future. “There has been interest by some,” he said, adding that legislators were reluctant to push the issue when it could become a dividing point in re-election bids.

“There are a lot of folks who don’t like being told what to do,” he said. “‘Mandatory’ frightens them.”

Recycling Committee Chairman and Town Councilman Jerry Dorfman said that had already been reflected in the input he’d received on townwide recycling, with several calls vehemently opposing the town instituting any sort of recycling program — especially a mandatory one.

Instead, VonStetten proposed that Bethany consider a program similar to what has been in place in nearby Rehoboth Beach for several months now, wherein the town has contracted with the DSWA for curbside recycling for any interested property, on a voluntary basis.

VonStetten said the voluntary program’s appeal had been demonstrated recently in Milford, where officials had initially signed up the entire town for curbside recycling. “We were getting only a 30 percent participation rate,” he said of the city’s 3,200 residences.

With the change to the voluntary program, 1,500 Milford residences have signed up for curbside recycling, in just the first month of availability. VonStetten said there was nearly a 100 percent rate of participation among those who had signed up for the voluntary program, increasing participation by roughly 540 households and bringing in 30,000 pounds per week of recyclables.

In Milford, as in Rehoboth Beach, all municipal residences were mailed postcards asking if they wanted to participate in the voluntary program. The municipality is initially billed for all addresses inside their limits, then refunded for those that don’t sign up for the program, VonStetten said.

In Rehoboth, where more than 900 residences have signed up, the cost for the recycling has been passed along to those who have signed up for the program, through the town.

The rate is essentially the same as the rate available now to all Delaware residences, with the voluntary curbside recycling program that DSWA has offered since 2006 — $1 per pickup per residence. Rehoboth Beach officials have tacked on the cost to individual property owners’ garbage fees, with an annual assessment. The same system has been recommended for Bethany.

Also recommended for Bethany, if the town adopts the curbside recycling program, is a reduced pick-up schedule that was tailored to better suit the state’s beach towns. Totaling 36 pick-ups per year, the schedule focuses on weekly pickups during the busy summer season, dropping back to bi-weekly pickups during the winter.

That would make the cost just $36 per year per participating property, instead of $52 per year, which is what residents of some inland towns and those signed up individually with the state program now pay.

It’s a deal that Fenwick Island to the south has also found attractive. VonStetten said the reduced pickup schedule had been designed to meet Fenwick’s needs and that he expects the town council to adopt a two-year contract for voluntary curbside recycling before the October deadline to avoid an anticipated rate increase that he called “sizeable.”

All residents of towns signing a contract with DSWA will be eligible for the current $1-per-pickup rate, no matter when they start up their service, so long as the town has met that deadline, VonStetten said. That means property owners buying or taking up residence in February, for instance, or those who hold off on making a decision until sometime next year, would get the benefit of an early decision by town officials to sign a contract prior to October.

VonStetten was eager to point out to the committee on Aug. 16 that DSWA currently operates at an annual loss of some $6 million on its recycling program as a whole. The cost to pick up the recyclable materials is not met by the revenue generated by their sales to processors. Instead, the DSWA generates basically all of its revenue through the tipping fees assessed at its landfills.

“We’re a state agency, but we get no money from the General Assembly,” he emphasized, adding that while state legislators hold considerable influence over the DSWA, they do not, in fact, fund the agency annually, as they do with most state agencies.

That results in a need to raise rates to match the ever-increasing costs of fuel, manpower and trucks, he said. DSWA employees are not state employees, and the state budget does not supplement DSWA’s recycling efforts, though many legislators have aimed to encourage more recycling statewide and also to reduce the amount of refuse going into increasingly taxed landfills. That is particularly true upstate, where the Cherry Hill landfill is nearing capacity and plans to close it to yard waste have been delayed.

Single-stream recycling on the horizon

VonStetten’s main mission in Bethany Beach last Friday was to encourage town officials to join the increasing trend toward curbside recycling. And he had good news for those who have worried about how complex that prospect could be for the retirees and visitors that make up a large segment of the town’s population: single-stream recycling is on its way.

The DSWA’s current voluntary curbside recycling program involves a plastic bin and a series of bags into which recycling participants separate their various recyclable materials: newspaper, cans and plastic bottles, junk mail, etc., as well as a bin for glass. Those bags will soon be a thing of the past, though, as single-stream recycling means everything but glass will simply be dumped into a single large container.

Dorfman said the town’s concern about the vulnerability of bags to pests had been a major issue in initial discussions of curbside recycling. It was likewise mentioned in Fenwick Island when that town was first investigating the DSWA’s municipal program. Eliminating the bags makes things much easier for everyone involved, it appears.

VonStetten said the shift was part of a growing trend nationwide, as the convenience of single-stream recycling for customers — and the reduced manpower cost for agencies to keep bags stocked for customers — was found to outweigh the potential increased revenue for recycling companies and agencies such as the DSWA when recyclables are pre-separated.

Residential communities and towns, such as Bethany Beach, that come into the system now are already being put on the new single-stream system, he noted. Individual customers currently taking up DSWA on their subscription service will be converted to the new single-stream system by June of 2008, VonStetten estimated.

Under the single-stream system, customers will get either a 65-gallon wheeled cart, as in Rehoboth Beach, or a 35-gallon one, as is being used in Dover. They’ll put all accepted recyclables directly into their container, with no bags involved at all.

VonStetten said the two cart sizes were being selected by towns and communities when contracts were signed but that individual residences that found a different size suited them better could request on a case-by-case basis that their carts be exchanged. Thus, elderly folks who found the larger carts too unwieldy could ask for a 35-gallon one in its place, and those who find the 35-gallon cart too small for their recycling needs could ask for a 65 gallon one.

Noticeably lacking in the new single-stream cart system is the recycling of glass, which has always been a problem for recycling agencies, as the separation of glass from other recyclables and into different colors for separate processing has always been key for revenue. The single-stream system will include a separate container — an 18-gallon blue bin — for glass.

VonStetten said towns were able, if they so choose, to take advantage of the yard-waste pick-up option currently available to individual subscribers at additional cost, but he said no area municipalities had yet done so. As now, other recyclable materials include newspapers, phone books, corrugated cardboard, narrow-neck plastic bottles, aluminum and steel cans, empty aerosol cans and junk mail.

Recycling reduces trash costs

Taking those items out of the waste stream is another benefit of recycling that the state has been keen on, and it’s one aspect that could be of major benefit to the towns looking at townwide recycling programs — because with reduced waste in trash cans comes reduced tipping fees at the landfill when the trash trucks roll in.

That cost savings had some at Aug. 16’s meeting in Bethany Beach questioning whether the town should just pay the entire cost for the recycling program, or even make it mandatory. While the latter is unlikely due to opposition from some citizens, the former is something that could be in the future for the program, even if it’s unlikely to be so at the start.

The appeal is clear in Milford, though, where twice-per-week trash pickup has been reduced to weekly trash pickup. New Castle County has done the same with its trash service, resulting already in savings for the county. VonStetten said reduced frequency for trash pickups is also a trend nationwide.

The curbside recycling program has also been deemed of benefit to the area’s overtaxed recycling drop-off locations, which have been plagued in recent years by overflow problems as the number of sites has dwindled and the population of those accustomed to recycling has increased.

VonStetten said there was no plan on the part of DSWA to close drop-off locations, though there was an increasing trend toward those sponsoring the sites to ask DSWA to remove the drop-offs.

In Fenwick Island, he noted, town officials have made it clear that they want the drop-off next to town hall to be gone in the near future. There, problems with overflow and noise, as well as broken glass left on the pavement, have made the drop-off unwanted by many.

In Millville, where the drop-off site is hosted by Doric Lodge No. 30 of the Masons on Route 26, there have also been complaints about overflow, broken glass and noise. Some members of the lodge, VonStetten said, have made it known they would like to have the drop-off removed.

The drop-off once most frequently used by Bethany residents, off Kent Avenue near Sea Colony’s western residences, was closed several years ago when the property was converted for new homes.

VonStetten said most developers of shopping centers were also now refusing to host drop-offs, seeking instead to maximize parking and also to minimize problems with overflow, noise, cleanup and vandalism. That has left DSWA with a dwindling number of locations just as recycling has started to become more common.

Curbside recycling in Bethany Beach could help with that problem, since town residents and visitors will no longer have to traverse Route 26 or Route 1 to get to the existing drop-off locations, nor will they add to the increasing load at those spots — which is only likely to further increase with the pressure for some for their hosts to discontinue the service.

Council members heard a report from Dorfman at their Aug. 16 meeting in which the committee unanimously recommended the council consider signing a contract with DSWA. A draft contract is expected to be developed prior to the council’s September meeting, at which time they could vote to sign it.

Those wanting more information on DSWA’s curbside recycling programs, municipal or individual, can call toll-free at 800-404-7080 or visit the DSWA Web site at