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LARGO — The Prince George’s County Department of the Environment held a meeting to discuss the draft of their Resource Recovery Master Plan (RMPM) with the community on Jan. 15.
The RMPM deals with the county’s long-term strategy for managing waste and recycling streams and outlines policies, programs and services that can reduce the amount of waste generated, or divert it away from landfill disposal. The planning process for the RMPM began back in April 2018, when the county published its Zero-Waste Initiative.
The meeting was moderated by Acting Associate Director of the Prince George’s County Resource Recovery Division Marilyn Rybak and also present were Maryland Environmental Service Project Manager Tim Ford and Department of the Environment (DOE) Assistant Director Darryl Flick.
“There were a lot of good questions,” said Joanne Flynn from Brandywine. “I’m definitely interested in zero waste and bringing it to our community in the Brandywine area.”
According to the DOE, Prince George’s County creates 1.6 million tons of waste per year and manages 25 percent of it, or 422,000 tons, through the DOE.
Most of the waste is managed at the Brown Station Road Sanitary Landfill, while 72,000 tons of recyclables are processed at the Materials Recycling Facility and 50,000 tons of yard trim and food scraps are composted at the Western Branch Organics Composting Facility.
To better manage the millions of tons of waste the county produces every year, the RMPM centers around five goals which were discussed during the meeting.
The first goal is to increase the value and volume of recycling. To accomplish this goal, some of the DOE’s recommendations are to purchase and install sorting equipment for $5.1 million to increase recycling revenue by $145 million annually, increase inspections at providing outreach to businesses, create a zero-waste goal for public schools, provide containers to schools and athletic fields.
“I will say while we have a very robust business in commercial recycling rate, there is still a lot more that we can do residentially,” Rybak said. “Our residential rate is about 23 percent. Certainly, our business rate is probably up in the 70s, and our average is about, I think we’re at about 60 percent recycling rate…which are very good numbers but there is still a lot more we can do.”
Secondly, the DOE wants to increase food waste diversion. This includes targeting large generators of food waste and creating a pilot collection program, ban commercial food waste from the landfill and establish a zero-waste recycling goal for public schools.
The third goal revolves around increasing the recycling of divertible materials. According to the RMPM draft, 47,000 tons of divertible materials placed in the landfills and 30,000 tons come from residential sources while 16,000 tons are from commercial sources.
To accomplish this goal, DOE wants to create a new recycling convenience center on Brown Station Road and in North County, require businesses to submit information on the disposal of their recyclables.
The DOE would also like to increase source reduction, the highest priority in waste prevention because of its overall impact on waste management. To do this, they will support a ban or fee on plastic bags and support extended producer responsibility programs which require a product producer to take back the used product or fund a recycling/recovery program.
The final goal of the RMPM is to efficiently and effectively manage waste disposal by increasing diversion while maximizing waste compaction and explore uses of potential airspace within the Brown Station Road Sanitary Landfill. That will address the portion of the waste stream that cannot be recycled, composted or diverted, now or in the future.
Although there was not enough time to discuss goals three and four due to having only an hour for the entire meeting, the 20 people in the audience had a lot of questions on everything from the recycling market to yard waste.
Questions included creating incentives to get people to recycle or issuing citations or fines, creating a consistent definition across the county of what is recyclable and ways to get schools, including non-public schools, involved in composting programs, all suggestions Rybak said the DOE would consider, as well as concerns about losing recycling revenue and the harmful effects of methane.
“I don’t think there was enough focus on the effects of fossil fuels and climate change,” said Greenbelt resident Lore Rosenthal. “That should have been used as a screen for decisions. There are a lot of fossil fuels involved in the transport and haul of compost. We have to keep in mind fossil fuels and CO2 and methane.”
However, one major question lingered over the group at the end of the meeting: what happens when the landfill is full?
Most of the Brown Station Road Sanitary Landfill is filled to capacity, Flick said. The landfill opened in 1965 and in 1992 a large part of it, called Area A, was closed. The DOE predicts that the landfill will reach capacity in seven to eight years. To compensate, they plan to use extra space in valleys of the landfill in Area C without expanding it expecting to achieve a minimum of 30 years extra use and a maximum of 65 years.
“Prince George’s County is in a very comfortable position and the envy of many counties and states across the country, across the world, because we have this potential capacity right before us without expanding the landfill because we are using the space that’s already permeable,” Flick said.
Until then, the county will be exploring alternate waste management systems, Flick said.
“I thought it was a good meeting though it was rushed,” Rosenthal said. “There was a great audience with good ideas and good questions. There was a very strong citizen interest.”