May 12, 2010

WMDT

DE Recycling - Latest News

Legislation to establish a “universal recycling” program in the First State will soon be signed into law following Tuesday’s passage in the House of Representatives of Senate Bill 234.

The recycling initiative, which was described in a recent House committee meeting as a “fragile compromise,” was fast-tracked through the General Assembly, having been introduced just three weeks ago. The proposal is the work of Gov. Jack Markell, who broadly outlined his vision for a recycling program earlier in the year. Markell has embraced fostering jobs through the growth of “green” industries as one of the guiding principles of his administration.

The bill will eliminate the so-called “Bottle Bill” law, which currently places a five cent deposit on selected beverage containers sold in Delaware. The deposit will be replaced with a new four cent fee on the same beverage containers.

The money generated from the fee, which the bill sets to expire in late 2014, will finance the creation of a new Delaware Recycling Fund. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) will issue grants and low-interest loans from the fund to help private waste-haulers and municipalities finance the program’s start-up costs. According to an analysis by the Controller General’s office, the program will cost a minimum of $16 million to initiate.

The new law will require every waste-hauler in the state to offer curbside recycling to their customers in three stages: first to single-family homes; then apartments and condominiums; and finally commercial businesses.

The Markell administration says the goal is to divert 50-percent of municipal solid waste from landfills by the start of 2015. That goal rises to 60-percent in 2020.

The bill contains a provision that if diversion goals are not achieved, DNREC and a new recycling advisory council could propose “any additional mechanism necessary” to reduce the amount of waste heading to landfills, including the implementation of a “Pay As You Throw” program and waste bans.

In all, seven House amendments were offered to the bill: one was tabled; one was overwhelming defeated by all House members; and five were defeated largely along party lines, with Democrats opposing the changes.

Among the changes defeated by House Democrats were:
An amendment that would have allowed consumers to see the cost of recycling as a separate line item on their waste collection bills. (The new law specifically bars waste-haulers from disclosing this information.)
An amendment that would have reduced the beverage container fee to one-cent, while broadening the scope of the containers to which it would have been applied. Currently, only about 25-percent of beverage containers will be subject to the fee - creating a potential legal issue because of the selective and arbitrary nature of the way in which it is levied.
An amendment that would have set the Delaware Recycling Fund to expire two years after the temporary beverage container fee is set to expire. Supporters of the amendment said if the fee is temporary, and the fund’s purpose is only to pay for the start-up cost of the universal recycling program, it should have a limited lifespan.
An amendment that would have radically streamlined the bill, eliminating the grant program, the beverage container fee, and ineffective Bottle Bill, while still requiring waste-haulers to provide curbside recycling.

State Rep. Bill Oberle, a former co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, said it's likely the new universal recycling law will be challenged in court and struck down. He said the state constitution requires that any state appropriation of funds to municipalities or corporations – something the bill will do by issuing grants and low-interest loans via the Delaware Recycling Fund – requires that the legislation be approved by a three-quarters vote (75-percent) of both chambers of the General Assembly. Despite the seeming constitutional conflict, Speaker of the House Bob Gilligan (D-Sherwood Park) ruled the bill could move ahead without the three-quarters vote requirement.

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