By Maegan Clearwood
In light of the economic recession, Kent County is making sacrifices, the most recent of which eliminated the much-praised curbside recycling program.
This Tuesday, Kent County commissioners decided to terminate the program, inciting fevered reactions from Chestertown community members.
The decision means that the county will no longer provide free, weekly recycling pickup. Advocates of curbside recycling have strong opinions about the decision, but county commissioners are convinced that its economic benefits are worth it.
“We are seeking for now to stop curbside pickup and to have Kent county’s program operate more like surrounding county’s programs, with igloo-type arrangements,” said county administrator Susanne Hayman. These igloos will be located at drop-off centers around the area, eliminating the need for a curbside recycling program, which will continue through June 25.
Another option for recyclers is through their weekly trash pickups, many of which offer recycling services, or by signing up with the local Infinity Recycling service, which has a weekly fee for pickups.
According to Hayman, the proposal is in response to the county’s dire financial situation. The county budget is about $24 million, and the state “cut us about $2 million,” she said. “We have a recycling program that, relatively speaking, is expensive. We looked to see how we can continue to recycle and encourage recycling but in a more cost effective way, so it will eliminate the convenience of curbside recycling…Just in personnel expense and gasoline, [the curbside program] costs up from $108 thousand dollars a year.”
As for how much elimination of curbside pickups will save the county, Hayman said, “It’s hard to tell. We believe pretty reasonably it’ll be a little over $200,000. We’re moving the recycling employees into unfilled vacancies, so there will be no immediate job loss over this.”
Although Kent County citizens would still be encouraged to recycle without the convenience of curbside pickup, the decision has sparked a debate within the Chestertown community.
“The question is, ‘Is that what the county taxes are supposed to pay for?’ They’re supposed to pay for solid waste,” said town manager Bill Ingersoll. “We’re constantly getting rid of things, being done with things in our lives. That was something that our taxes pay the county to do, so they’re abdicating that responsibility when they do that.”
Removal of curbside recycling will have little direct effect on the Washington College recycling program.
According to recycling director Tara Holste, the school participates in bulk recycling, not curbside recycling.
“We collect from all the dorms then the county picks it up from one spot,” Holste said. “[When the county] does cut curbside, there would be no change.”
The county will continue recycling pickups for specific locations, including WC.
Being environmentally friendly is not only a priority for WC, but for the Chestertown community as well. Local citizens worry that, with elimination of curbside pickup, people will be less willing to recycle. Curbside recycling has been a convenient method of keeping community members environmentally friendly.
In response to the decision, the town council sent a letter to county commissioners earlier this week urging them to reconsider removal of the program.
“It has taken many years to develop the curbside program in Kent County,” the letter said. “It is well known and envied on the Eastern Shore. The Town has tried to do its part by encouraging and training residents to recycle. As a result, the trend of Chestertown’s garbage tonnage has gone steadily down, even with several hundred dwelling units being built and occupied during the same period. It would be tragic to terminate the program and arduous to resurrect it should the economy return to a more normal status.”
In addition to the letter, a petition is circling around the community in favor of keeping the curbside program alive. The petition, instigated by the Chestertown green committee, is another effort being put forth to protest the decision. Jonathan Hanley, a Chestertown green committee member and advocate of the petition process, said that the signatures will be given to Mayor Margo Bailey at the Earth Day festival Saturday, April 24. Bailey will then present the petition to county commissioners at their next meeting.
Hanley is ready to explore other options in order to keep recycling a priority for Chestertown. “We will continue to discuss ways to maintain curbside pickup of recycled material,” Hanley said. “The question is, can it remain free?”
Hayman is confident that recycling rates would stay strong if the decision were to follow through.
“There’s state law that mandates that you have to maintain recycling,” Hayman said. “We’re trying to adapt our program so that it works more like our surrounding counties. We’re trying to do everything we can to keep recycling at the level it is.”
Chestertown residents are exploring alternative options. At this past Monday’s town council meeting, town council members agreed to look into a “zero waste” plan, which could include the creation of a composting program and new, more effective receptacles. Options such as this could promote recycling practices in the community, despite the elimination of convenient curbside pickups.
“We’ve been able to reduce our tonnage at the landfill over the last couple of years,” said Chestertown mayor Margo Bailey at the council meeting. “Igloos are not a solution we’re going to accept.”
Hayman thinks that termination of the program may actually inspire citizens to be more environmentally aware.
“Maybe people will become more aware of our recycling program with this change,” Hayman said. “Maybe, in some of this publicity, people will become more aware of the fact that some of their trash pickups also do recycling. Maybe more people will become aware, and participate, and become more knowledgeable as a result of hearing about this.”
Regardless of its ultimate effects, eliminating curbside pickup will certainly make an impact on the community.
“It’ll have a big impact on Chestertown,” said Ingersoll. “We depend on it. Living in close proximity to each other, recycling is every bit as important as trash collection.”