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The Tentacle


October 18, 2005

Bottle Feeding NIMBYs

Norman M. Covert

Not too long ago we heard from a group of loudmouths that incinerators were the bane of our idyllic lifestyle in Frederick County and we must continue to bury the mountains of trash we generate each day. Such drivel is just as much garbage as we put in the landfill.

Let me get my thinking cap on and recall a time when I collected Coke, Pepsi and RC Cola bottles from the curbs and overgrowth next to sidewalks and took them to Mr. Halperin at the corner grocery store. He gave me two pennies for each bottle; a nickel for every large size bottle.

My 93-year-old neighbor, Albert Sprankle, who ran such a neighborhood store at North Market and 7th Street so many years ago, remembers those good old days and the enterprising youth who came to him each day. He remarked, though, that it was hard work moving the wooden crated glass bottles around.

The scenario, however, began this way. The bottle was picked up at the store by the Coca-Cola truck driver and taken to the bottling plant where it rode a conveyor belt to be washed, rinsed, and refilled with the wonderful tonic known as Coca-Cola.

The process was undoubtedly mirrored at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. You bought the soft drinks at a nickel apiece and paid a two-cent deposit fee per bottle. You returned the bottles, placed them on a rack of empties, and picked up a new six-pack for which you didn't have to pay a deposit. Not hard to do!

When some folks discarded the bottles, it was a boon for a kid, who could make some spending money policing up the discards. It was a benefit, or "Win-Win" as Dale Carnegie would say, for all concerned. Cheap labor, like the kid who delivered your morning newspaper (cost five cents and you generously tipped him a dime each week).

What a surprise about two years ago when Frederick County Commissioners President John (Lennie) Thompson proposed a similar deposit program. He was hooted down by producers and purveyors of such delights. They said it was impractical, expensive and too much work. It wasn't when we used glass bottles.

My hometown also had no real landfill because it was just about at sea level. If you dug too deeply, you'd strike water. There was - horror of horrors - an incinerator near the Hampton Roads waterfront that consumed the garbage in a fiery furnace; the Shadrach, Meeshach and Abednigo of all fiery furnaces.

Yes, it did belch out some smoke, but I don't remember anyone saying it was other than a nuisance. The high temperature would consume the contents and any particles escaping from the smokestack probably caused little problem wafting onto the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

No one said anything in those days about heavy metals in the particulates, but we didn't have plastics in the '50s. Diapers were made of cotton and rarely wound up in any landfill. If they did, the cotton would degrade fairly rapidly. Today's disposable "nappies" are often put inside a plastic grocery bag to mask any aromas escaping the plastic kitchen trash bag.

It would seem plastic is the culprit and has not been suitably blamed for polluting our environment through its manufacture, use or disposal. It does not degrade naturally, but fire consumes it. Its culpability seems clear to this inquiring mind.

The naysayers in Frederick, the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) loudmouths, have put the fear of God in anyone who would dare suggest that an incinerator might be the answer to our swollen landfill.

I was surprised that a recent edition of the usually liberal Gazette presents a well-done series of articles on the landfill, actually proposing in its columns that an incinerator might be the answer. Wow, the Greenies will get you now!

The whackos refuse to consider that (gasp!) Fort Detrick built an incinerator in 1975 that was state of the art then and even without upgrades of about 10 years ago would still be considered state of the art.

That incinerator takes all manner of combustible garbage and turns it into ash, its firebox temperature reaching up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Its stack scrubbers remove dangerous particulates before discharge in the air. It has passed repeated tests by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Army landfill at Area B bordering Kemp Lane has been projected to last well into this century. It receives only non-burnable refuse and the Army recycles iron and steel with a significant return on investment. The incinerator is a huge success.

The initial investment might seem daunting for our weak-kneed leadership, but it would likely amortize its cost within just a few years. The location would be a challenge because of those same NIMBYs who reject the notion of building an electricity-generating station, while demanding more juice at lower costs.

With leadership, vision, certainty of purpose and facts and figures that verify the efficacy of incineration, including perhaps serving a dual purpose (electricity generation?), we could significantly increase the life of our landfill and put the smart folks back in charge.

As for me, the convenience of plastic and its like materials is greatly overrated. I rarely have a Coke anymore (age, diet, etc.), but six-and-a-half ounces was more than enough and the glass bottle had its built-in life cycle.

Give a kid a break, today the bottle would probably bring him at least a quarter.



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