RAMBLINGS • Help Determine The Future Of Recycling

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One of the issues facing the Montgomery County Board is that of recycling. When the program began, partially because of perceived public demand, it came close to breaking even financially. The prices of materials turned in to the recycling center (a building built with county funds) to be baled (the baler was purchased with county funds and housed in the center) and aluminum (mostly cans) were higher than now.

The center gave employment to three people, and a supervisor was later added. It seemed a win-win situation. Four people had jobs; much material that would have gone to the landfill, which doesn't have an unlimited capacity, was utilized in the manufacturing stream for a second time, in theory saving natural resources; those who care about the environment saw fewer bags of trash in the ditches of the county and towns.

Less visible but perhaps even more important, the idealism of a generation that believed in the rinse, reclaim, recycle philosophy had an example of "Practice what you preach" to follow. I for one always felt a little better about myself and society as I placed glass, metal, and aluminum containers as well as newspapers, office paper, and magazines in the appropriate boxes at the center.

By ordinance burn barrels and open burning mostly disappeared in municipalities, and we were all better health-wise because of it, though I at first was among those who resented losing the right to burn paper products in the barrel in the driveway.

In more recent years conditions have changed. The local glass plant closed, so the local recycling center stopped taking glass; the market was gone. China stopped buying cardboard and plastic, so those prices plummeted. When China was a buyer, they outbid domestic buyers, who gradually shut down; now the market is negative. We've been told the county loses $2,000  every time we ship a load of cardboard that cost $4,000 to collect and bale. Obviously we can't continue to absorb that cost.

When recycling was near to breaking even, the county expanded services to area towns. If a town provided space, the county would send recycling employees to the town to pick up the material to bring it back to be baled. As long as I've been on the board, I've been sensitive to charges that the county pretty much serves Litchfield and Hillsboro while ignoring less populated, farther from the big towns people. We put drop sheds in most municipalities, not without problems (one burned, for example, and most overflowed at one time or another), partly as a reaction to that concern; everyone deserved a chance to recycle as conveniently to them as possible. However, the wear and tear on equipment to haul the stuff back to Hillsboro and the labor required to do so hurt the center's bottom line.

One solution to the rising deficits in the recycling accounts was to remove recycling from the General Fund. I was never sure of how that would help. Now many theories as to what to do exist among board members. I suspect the 21 members have 21 different ideas, and that destroys the cohesiveness the board needs to function well.

One suggestion was to place the question on the ballot in an advisory manner during the March primary. The question would have asked a voter if he or she thought recycling should have a "special services" tax status, similar to the ambulance service districts. Several problems could arise from an advisory ballot question. Many voters don't pay property taxes, at least not directly, and if the voters said yes and the board said no, as they could do in the representative-style democracy which we are, then voters might feel their vote didn't matter, a feeling already too prevalent in this county.

However, the answer would have to be no if the question were advisory because of the cost of the paperwork to form a new taxing body based on a board vote. If the question were binding, as it was for the extension service, senior citizens' services, and the 708 Board (mental health services), then those costs could be avoided–and property taxes would go up, as they did when the three mentioned referendums passed.

At the last board meeting several suggestions were made, and I agree with parts of most of them. I am willing to pay to recycle, but I don't think it's fair that someone who doesn't recycle also pays for me. I'd like to see the system privatized, but I'm not sure anyone can make it into a paying enterprise.

In short, I'd like to know how the citizenry feels about recycling, so in conjunction with this paper, The Journal-News, I'm soliciting your written opinion.

Please fill in the attached form and send it to Ron Deabenderfer, 117 E. Tremont St., Hillsboro, IL 62049-1815 or email your response to me at thejournal-news@consolidated.net.

I promise to read them all and let readers and the board know of the results.

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