The council charged with formulating regulations and procedures for universal curbside has yet to meet, and waste industry officials say some customers could see a gap in thier recycling pick-up services

Though it was heralded by administration officials and lawmakers as one of great legislative achievements of the year, the state has done relatively little to begin implementing the terms of an ambitious universal curbside recycling law passed by the General Assembly in May.

Waste haulers and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority also acknowledged that, as the new law is phased in, potentially thousands of customers could see gaps in their curbside recycling service.

Senate Bill 234 requires Delaware waste haulers to offer single-stream curbside recycling to all single-family residences by Sept. 15, 2011.

Also stipulated in the law is a requirement that the amount of trash sent to Delaware landfills be reduced by 60% over the next 10 years.

To help defray the costs businesses and trash-collecting municipalities may incur to meet the deadlines and goals, the law dismantles the state’s current bottle deposit law and replaces it with a nonrefundable 4-cent bottle tax, which takes effect Nov. 30 and is scheduled to disappear in four years.

That tax money, a maximum of $22 million, will be handed out in the form of grants, loans or both to companies that ask for funds to help pay for recycling trucks or curbside canisters.

This Delaware Recycling Fund is to be administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control under the advisement of the Recycling Public Advisory Council. The 16-member council represents the expansion of a recycling panel previously established by executive orders.

Though the council’s work is essential to ensuring the proper implementation of the universal recycling law, the panel has yet to meet.

The council was scheduled to have its first meeting in Dover July 21, but the session was cancelled because Gov. Jack Markell has yet to appoint members to fill all of the open seats.

“They have a large role in general for just advising the department and the DSWA, the governor and the General Assembly on recycling matters in Delaware,” said Bill Miller, an environmental scientist with DNREC’s Waste Management Section and lead liaison to the council. “But, the new council has not yet been appointed.”

A spokesman for the governor confirmed that Markell still has to pick two more council members. One must be a representative from the alcoholic beverage industry and the other will be the last of four “public members” on the council, as outlined in the statute.

Waiting for decisions

Haulers large and small are in various stages of efforts to establish or expand their recycling services and comply with the new law, but they too have reason to be reticent when they lack the specific guidance that’s supposed to come from the council.

“They want to be compliant, basically when all this was coming out [the haulers] were looking for direction,” Miller said.

Mike Stang, president of M-T Trash in Bridgeville said he needs to know when and how he might get access to the bottle tax money.

Since he’s a small hauler, Stang said he won’t be able to move ahead without the public money, unlike his larger competitors.

“I have 13 to 14 months to be onboard, or less. They still don’t even know how they’re going to hand it out,” he said. “I can’t wait for them to make decisions; then, maybe I get something, maybe I don’t. I can’t afford to rest on the state saying they’re going to do something.”

Stang serves roughly 5,000 residential trash customers in Sussex County. Ideally, he’d like to make them all recycling customers as well.

Gap in service possible

Just as M-T Trash and firms like it are attempting to build the universal recycling service infrastructure, the Delaware Solid Waste Authority is trying to scale back and ultimately cease its residential recycling pick-up services.

Recycling pickup has long been a loss leader for the agency, subsidized by its landfill fees, said Rich Von Stetten, DSWA recycling manager.

Though the law says DSWA doesn’t have to stop picking up residential recyclables until the Sept. 15, 2011, deadline, Von Stetten said the transition away from recycling is happening faster.

Several major municipalities that currently have recycling pick-up through DSWA, including Dover and Kent County, are scheduled to end their service in the coming months and elect to either give the work to a private contractor or, in the case of Milford, do it themselves.

Von Stetten said unlike Kent and Sussex counties, nearly all of New Castle County already is covered by private trash haulers that also offer recycling services to customers.

If DSWA’s draw down moves ahead in areas that aren’t served by municipalities or haulers that also offer recycling — areas where individual subscription customers purchase their recycling service directly from DSWA — some households could face a gap in their service.

If the private haulers with routes in those areas aren’t ready to offer recycling and DSWA is ready to leave, that could be a problem for as many as 6,100 residential customers in the lower two counties, Von Stetten said.

Haulers see the potential for service gaps coming too.

“That’s just unfortunate but it’s a reality. [The DSWA] can’t say, ‘We’re going to stop pick-up for people in this ZIP code and all the haulers need to pick-up in this ZIP code now,” said Bruce Georgov, president of Independent Disposal Services, one of the state’s major haulers.

Von Stetten said DSWA wants to work to avoid those service gaps.

“That could happen, but our CEO [Pasquale S. Canzano] is going to be extremely sensitive to the needs of the haulers. He’s not going to say, ‘Oh well, we’re out of it,’” he said. “The haulers know in the back of their minds, Sept. 15 is the day they need to be ready; DSWA would love to be out of it sooner. Our CEO will definitely not leave people high and dry.”