Residents and officials in Baldwin County and throughout the country face a growing dilemma between responsibilities to make the best use of taxpayer funds and do what is best for the environment and resources.
In recent meetings, city councils in municipalities such as Daphne, Fairhope and Spanish Fort have faced growing expenses for solid waste collection – including garbage, recyclables and yard debris.
Projected deficits of more than $500,000 a year between costs and income from fees charged to residents have been reported in at least one Baldwin city.
One problem is the rising costs of disposing of recyclable materials, particularly plastic. At one time, recyclables brought in money or at least broke even. Now, one city reports that the cost of recycling material is about $69 a ton. The cost of taking garbage to be dumped in the landfill is $29 a ton.
As officials have stated, this is not a Baldwin County problem, this is a national and worldwide problem. The market for recyclables is changing around the world, making it harder and more expensive to find locations that will take items such as plastic.
Some of the proposals discussed in council chambers and work sessions for dealing with this situation here include cutting scheduled collections, hiring private companies and raising rates.
County Commissioners and Baldwin employees have also joined the discussion. The county is discussing possible agreements with some cities to allow some recyclables to be included in the material stored at the Magnolia Landfill until the most practical arrangement can be found to take the items to be recycled.
This is a problem that does not have a simple or painless solution.
No one wants to pay more for a basic necessity.
For years, educators and officials have worked to encourage residents to recycle materials, saving resources as well as landfill space. Few want to go back to filling that space with plastic, paper and aluminum.
People here are working to find the best solutions. Residents have told council members that they would be willing to pay higher fees if they could keep the same level of service. County officials are working with a private company to determine if materials taken to the Baldwin landfill can be processed into building materials or fuels.
Innovation and cooperation are keys to finding the solution to this and many other problems that Baldwin County will encounter as it grows. We do not always have the luxury of continuing to do things they way they have always been done.
We will have to look at all the alternatives, discuss them together and find the way forward that works best for the entire community.