WASHINGTON – Maryland has a new, fast- growing export, according to a report released last month by state officials — trash.
Driven by lower charges at new mega- landfills in Pennsylvania and Virginia, the report said, Maryland shipped 1 million tons of its trash to those states in 1997.
That number is expected to double by 2000, when exports will account for 30 percent of the state’s garbage, according to the final report of the Maryland Solid Waste Task Force.
“It’s very simple economics,” said Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. “You have people with large quantities of trash who will go out of state” where it is cheaper to dump garbage.
But the task force said the economics that make it attractive to dump Maryland’s trash in Pennsylvania and Virginia have not hurt landfills here, most of which are supported by local governments.
“Financially, it’s a good thing for counties in Maryland, they can save landfill space for the future,” said Robin Davidov, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority. The agency coordinates trash disposal for six counties and Baltimore City.
John Woolums, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, agreed that trash exports have not hurt locally.
“We don’t have any townships going into debt,” because of the state’s trash exports, said
While 1 million tons of municipal solid waste — curbside-variety garbage — left the state in 1997, only about 60,000 tons were imported, according to state officials.
But the state imported another 788,370 tons of demolition and construction debris — or “rubble” — in 1997. And the task force identified new rubble landfills as a “prospect of concern,” noting that there are currently five applications for new or expanded rubble landfills.
Banks said that of those five applications, however, three are in an inactive status or embroiled in a legal or zoning dispute.
He stressed that Maryland’s imports of municipal solid waste, to the Sandy Hill landfill in Prince George’s County and the Mountainview landfill in Allegany County, were minimal.
“We’re not dealing with barges up the Chesapeake,” Banks said.
In his State of the Commonwealth address, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III last week proposed banning garbage barges on state waterways, after reports that Waste Management Inc. planned to increase the amount of trash it hauled from New York City to Virginia landfills.
Banks said he did not think that trash import restrictions imposed by the Virginia General Assembly would have much effect on Maryland exports to the commonwealth.
Davidov said that many Maryland counties have raised their “tipping fees” – the rate that landfills charge haulers — to about $50 per ton. She said large private landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania charge about $35 per ton.
But Davidov said Maryland’s municipal solid waste landfills are cushioned by the fact that all but one of them are publicly owned, allowing them to curb business and export trash.
“Most businesses – like the private landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania — can’t put an asset on the shelf,” she said.
For now, Maryland waste handlers are content with the rise in trash exports.
“In the future if those prices go up, we will have a way to serve the public,” Davidov said.