2019 Summer #MACoCon Highlights County Recycling Challenges

L to R: Julie Ufner, Lori Scozzafava, Kaley Laleker, and Sarah Elfreth

Attendees to the 2019 MACo Summer Conference received important updates on recycling and composting during the “Reduce, Reuse…Now What?” panel on August 16. Panelists discussed the state of the national recycling economy, the current state of composting in Maryland, and recent changes to recycling facility regulations.

Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Land and Materials Director Kaley Laleker discussed pending regulations that would clarify how recycling facilities handle solid waste that is often mixed in with recyclable materials. The regulations will exempt certain recycling activities from the regulations, require certain recycling facilities to provide a notification to MDE, and require certain recycling facilities to get a permit from MDE. MDE will seek informal comments in the fall of 2019 and the formal comment process will begin in early 2020.

Maryland Environmental Service Recycling Division Chief Lori Scozzafava stressed that recycling must adjust to changing markets and we need to make long-term recycling infrastructure investments. Scozzafava urged making strategic choices, including focusing on materials with the best return on investment. Food and organic waste now constitute the largest component of Maryland’s waste stream and these should be targeted. Local governments should focus on economies of scale and control of recycling assets, whether through self-owned facilities or long-term contracts. Scozzafava also advocated for increasing the quality of commodities by decreasing contamination and developing local markets.

National Association of Counties Associate (NACo) Legislative Director Julie Ufner reiterated the changes wrought from China restricting its recycling market. Ufner reviewed the findings of a recent NACo survey on the issue. The survey found that: (1) many recyclable products no longer bring in a profit and some are recycled at a loss; (2) some counties cannot dispose of recyclable material and must look at landfilling or other means of disposal; and (3) many rural counties and cities are having to reduce or end their recycling programs due to increased costs. Ufner also discussed the contamination issue and noted that increased public education and enforcement can reduce the problem.

Maryland Senator Sarah Elfreth moderated the panel.