City of Seaford changes leaf and limb policy to curb abuse

By Lynn R. Parks

For the first time since it was opened in 1978, the city of Seaford's leaf and tree limb collection area on the Nanticoke River will not be open to the public. Starting early next year, the only people dumping yard waste at the site will be city of Seaford employees. "This will keep unwanted materials out of the area," said public works superintendent Berley Mears. "A few dishonest people bringing in stuff we don't want has ruined it for everybody." Mears said that people have brought household trash, covered with a layer of yard waste so the workers there don't see it, to the site. Contractors have also used the site to dump unwanted construction material. "When we find it, we have to dig it out and take it to the landfill," Mears said. "This site was never intended for contractors. That's not what it's for, and they are taking advantage of the city." City director of operations Charles Anderson, speaking at last week's city council meeting, said that about 36 city residents regularly take yard waste to the facility. Annually, that amounts to about 350 drop-offs, Mears said. To monitor those drop-offs, the city employs two part-time attendants, at a cost of about $8,000 a year. Those jobs will end when the area is closed to the public. In contrast, the city takes more than 5,000 dump truck loads of yard waste to the site every year. October through December, city trucks pick up loose piles of leaves that have been raked to the curb. Year-round, city employees pick up bags of yard waste that are left on the curbs. The bags of waste are dumped at the site. And that accumulation of plastic bags is presenting another problem for the city, a problem that will not be solved by banning citizens from the site, Mears said. "The bags just sit there," he said. Consequently, the leaves that they are holding  leaves that, according to the laws of nature should break down to add nutrients to the soil  do not decompose. "The site is getting full," city manager Dolores Slatcher told the city council last week. If it is continued to be run the way it is, "it will have a limited life," she added. "You can't keep running this kind of leaf and limb area. It just won't work." Accumulated yard waste is a problem landfills throughout the state are facing. The state Senate in June passed a bill that would ban yard waste from rapidly-filling landfills. Under the legislation, residents and businesses would have been required to keep yard waste separate from other trash. Trash haulers would have been required to take the yard waste to composting and mulching facilities rather than to landfills.

Because that bill was not passed by the House, it is essentially dead. Jim Short, environmental program manager with the state's Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Branch, anticipates that a similar bill will be introduced in the upcoming General Assembly. The state has already banned yard waste, including grass clippings, from the Cherry Island landfill in Wilmington. That ban will go into effect Jan. 1, Short said. If no yard waste ban is enacted by the General Assembly, a similar ban might be considered for the Sussex County landfill near Millsboro, he added. In August, the state issued guidelines regarding the operation of municipal yard-waste collection facilities like Seaford's. Those guidelines recommend that the facilities: Remove any trash from the yard waste. "Trash" would include plastic bags. The Seaford site "needs to get those leaves out of the bags," Short said. Actively manage the site to produce either compost or mulch. The city of Seaford does not do any composting or mulching. Jeff Deats, director of the city's wastewater treatment plant, is experimenting with a small windrow of leaves, to see how they decompose, Mears said. While the guidelines are just recommendations now, "at some point in time we may accept them as regulations," Short said. Mears said that the city is struggling to find the best ways to meet the state's guidelines. Occasionally, it has members of the state's Boot Camp at the site to tear open the bags of leaves, getting rid of the plastic bags. The city could do away with the bags altogether, asking citizens to rake yard waste to the curb year-round for pick-up. But grass clippings that are left near the curb can get in the storm drains, Mears said, leading to drainage problems. The city has looked into buying a truck similar to a garbage truck that would pick up yard waste that citizens put into containers, Mears said. It has also looked at buying a chipper to make wood chips from the limbs that are deposited at the site. Now, the city buys wood chips to mix with waste from the wastewater treatment plant in that plant's compost-making process. And that  paying for mulch and at the same time leaving at the leaf and limb site material that could be perfectly good mulch  is symptomatic of what all of Delaware is doing, Short said. "Our three neighboring states, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, all compost their brush, leaves and grass into soil-like material that is very valuable for amending soils," he said. "We continue to put our waste in landfills and import compost from neighboring states because nobody makes it here." Both Short and Mears agree that education of landowners is important in reducing the amount of yard waste in the state's landfills and in sites like Seaford's leaf and limb disposal area. The city, through its newsletter, is encouraging citizens to mulch their grass clippings and leave them on the lawn, where they add nutrients to the soil. "Even though our neighboring states have been composting for 10 or 20 years, it's all new in Delaware," Short said. "Everybody needs time to acclimate to the change."

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