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Recycling Proposal Buried, For Now

Where would she put those leaves?

Where would she put those leaves?

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – A proposal to create a landscape waste recycling center that would benefit township taxpayers and those in surrounding municipalities is dead for now, a victim of the declining economy. The plan sparked public interest, however, so expect to see it floated again – recycled, if you will – sometime in the future.

“It was a good idea, and still is,” Lower Pottsgrove Township Manager Rodney Hawthorne says. “It just didn’t have the money.”

During the past year, the township created and introduced to other local governments plans for an estimated $1.2 million facility near the corner of North Charlotte Street and Bleim Road. It would have accepted yard waste like leaves, grass clippings, and trees and branches, and turned them into usable compost and natural fertilizer products.

Besides the center’s environmental benefits, the township also envisioned two economic advantages: it could lower landfill fees municipalities pay, because landscape waste would no longer be carted to dumps and buried; and it might find markets in which to sell its recycled goods. “Recycling this stuff would be cheaper for everyone in the long run,” Hawthone explains, “and maybe we could even make a buck on it.”

But with a national recession, tight local government budgets, and a marked drop in prices paid for recycled materials of any kind, the idea was shelved last month. All government officials to whom the township talked expressed interest, Hawthorne notes, “but nobody bought in. What we were talking about were big bucks in this economy, and it’s all about the money.”

Set-up of the center in its first year was projected to cost the borough of Pottstown, if it agreed to participate, about $175,000, a per capita figure based on 2000 census population data. Lower Pottsgrove would have paid about $90,000; North Coventry, $59,000; Upper Pottsgrove, $33,000.

The numbers were too pricey for most governments, and they were disputed as well. Rather than allocate expenses on population, some said, they should be based on waste tonnage. Others contended local, not regional, recycling would be better received by their taxpayers and reduce costs too.

The launch would have been funded, in part, by a $394,000 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection grant to purchase necessary machinery. The township has notified the state it will be unable to accept that money, and it dropped plans to pursue a second grant of about $250,000.

Hawthorne credits township Assistant Manager Alyson Elliott for successfully shepherding the project this far. She did much of the research and analysis needed, wrote and submitted grant applications, and made the rounds during the fall to pitch the proposal to local officials and the Pottstown Area Council of Governments. Their reception, if not enthusiastic, was at least encouraging.

That’s why Lower Pottsgrove holds some hope the idea might fly again when the economy rebounds. “It absolutely has traction later,” Hawthorne believes.

The need hasn’t certainly diminished. Some experts suggest that 20 percent of a state’s solid waste comes from landscape refuse, and of that about half consists of tree leaves alone. With landfill tipping fees continuing to rise, recycling landscape wastes can make economic and environmental sense.

For now, though, Lower Pottsgrove has ended informal purchase discussions with the Bieleski family, owners of the small farm at the corner of North Charlotte and Bleim where the recycling center might have been located. The township told the Bieleskis it wants to remain on their list of prospective buyers, though; it’s interested in acquiring the open space of more than 10 acres, Hawthorne says, whether or not the center gets built.

Photo by Ned Horton

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