Four years ago, a band of concerned Talbot County residents laid in wait around the area’s colorful recycling igloos, petitions in hand, seeking support for a county-wide recycling initiative. Thus began the grassroots efforts of Recycle Talbot, a small community group spreading its message of curbside recycling throughout the county.
On Wednesday, January 18th, at 7 PM, Recycle Talbot’s efforts are coming to fruition as the Easton Town Council holds a public hearing on curbside recycling. At issue is Ordinance 589, which would mandate recycling and allow the town to assess a fee for the service. As Recycle Talbot supporters recount, the history of this initiative has been fraught with false starts and slow action.
In 2009, as the Talbot County Council prepared for the closure of its landfill, Recycle Talbot seemed poised to assert its agenda. Unfortunately, a county-led process that involved private consultants and a fruitless study left the recycling campaign adrift. The county ended up setting higher recycling goals in the comprehensive solid waste management plan, but was unwilling to take command of county-wide curbside recycling. This shifted the debate to town municipalities.
St. Michaels took matters into its own hands and began curbside recycling last year, lead by pressure from advocate Ann Hymes. “We have reduced the trash sent to the landfill by 58% since the curbside recycling program began,” Hymes reports. Hymes also credits support from present commissioners for bringing about the change.
St. Michaels cut its regular trash collection to one day a week and limited the amount of trash it would pick up from each household. The town also plans to offer recycling bins on its main street in addition to already existing trash cans.
Easton’s curbside recycling program, if passed, would go into effect July of this year. Ryan Ewing, an Easton resident who organizes Recycle Talbot, comments on the challenges in getting Easton’s program started: “In the town elections of 2009, a majority of those winning their council elections included support for curbside recycling in their platforms, but it has taken another two and a half years to get to this point. Change takes time.”
Under the proposed ordinance, the town would contract out weekly recycling pickup and processing. Like St. Michaels, Easton would adopt a single-stream service, which would collect all recyclable materials—glass, plastic and paper—together in the same bin once a week. The igloo recycling containers will continue to operate as usual, offering recycling options for those who live outside town limits.
Currently, with the hauling and tipping fees to cart trash to the Ridgely landfill, a ton of waste costs the town $100-$110. A ton of recycled waste would cost the town around $20, as the hauling fees are off-set by income earned back by recycling. The town has not yet adopted any plans to incentivize recycling and discourage excessive trash, such as a pay-as-you-throw program or limiting the amount of trash pickup, as St. Michaels does.
The town is proposing a monthly fee to cover recycling hauling costs. Debate has spawned over whether to add recycling as a line item on residential trash bills or to include it in the overall trash collection fees. The exact fee amount is not a part of Ordinance 589 and will be discussed at a later meeting.
Easton resident Krystal Algier plans to attend Wednesday’s hearing. Loading her silver Prius full of empty plastic containers and glass bottles, Algier makes the weekly trek to the recycling igloos behind the Amish Country Farmers Market. She supports Ordinance 589 because, “simply put, more people would recycle if it were more convenient.” In addition to recycling, Algier composts, buys in bulk to reduce packaging, and uses environmentally friendly household products. “It is time for Easton to join the green initiative.”
On the Mid-Shore, St. Micheals, Centreville, and several Kent County towns offer curbside recycling. Nearby Annapolis began its curbside recycling program more than twenty years ago. Hymes points out that, “people are moving here that have been recycling for years,” and are surprised to find that a curbside service doesn’t exist locally.
Currently, Recycle Talbot has around 1000 supporters and communicates with its members through an email list and website. It is encouraging citizens of Easton to attend the Wednesday night hearing as a show of support for this issue. So far, it has over thirty confirmed attendees.
According to Ewing, “Recycling is one of those very popular ideas, because it hits the ‘triple bottom-line’ of being good for the environment, good for society, and good for the pocketbook. Instituting a successful program will save money and make Easton a better place to live.”
Editor's note: On February 21st, the Easton Town Council adopted a mandatory curbside recycling program by a 4-0 vote.