City hustles to get recycling plan running

October 22, 1990|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

Glen Leach and his brother, Billy, who describe themselves as hard-working truckers and construction contractors, are eager to get in on the ground floor of the Baltimore region's growing trash-recycling industry.

"I don't have any doubts that within five years, recycling will be the thing," Glen Leach said.

The Leach brothers seem to be just of the sort of entrepreneurs Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had in mind when he called on private industry to be a partner in the city's fledgling recycling effort. Strapped for cash, the city is unable to take on debt to get the program started.

G&L Trucking, the Leach brothers' Baltimore company, has won a contract to process and market tons of used soda bottles, milk jugs and other castoff containers from city homes. But the company has so far been unable to borrow money needed to buy a conveyor belt, forklifts and other equipment critical to the operation of the processing center. Banks and other lending institutions "won't touch it," a frustrated Glen Leach said.

So, with the first large-scale curbside collection of recyclables set to begin at 24,000 homes during the week of Nov. 5, city officials are scrambling to help the Leach brothers get started.

One observer said the situation illustrates a pitfall of the city's "shoestring" recycling plan.

"It's a linchpin," Daniel L. Jerrems, chairman of the Baltimore Recycling Coalition, said of G&L's processing operation. "The city is relying completely on them."

The coalition, a group of citizen recycling advocates, has been pushing for curbside recycling as a way of cutting the city's dependence on landfills and incinerators.

Some hustling by the city's newly appointed recycling coordinator, Stephen E. Chidsey, may help G&L get a start. Chidsey, who said the company's troubles can be blamed on a tight lending market generally and the region's inexperience with recycling, said the city is considering the purchase of a sorting machine, using a $36,000 state grant.

The machine would be leased to G&L. The city also is looking for other ways to help cut G&L's capital costs.

Leslie L. Legg, an analyst for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, a trade group for waste handlers, said the difficulty in starting large-scale urban recycling programs should not come as a surprise to Baltimore or any other city.

"You're setting up a whole new industrial infrastructure," she said.

G&L, a minority-owned company that would run the processing center in the old city dog pound at 222 Calverton Road in Southwest Baltimore, hopes to employ as many as 100 people within a year.

The Washington-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which promotes comprehensive urban recycling, claims that a city about the size of Baltimore, by recycling half of its trash, can create 1,500 jobs by fostering a labor-intensive recycling industry.

Though few major cities have much experience with recycling, some, like Seattle and Minneapolis, claim to be recycling as much as 25 percent of their trash. But experts say it is difficult to compare recycling among major cities because recycling rates are calculated in varying ways.

The city and Baltimore County are planning their recycling efforts simultaneously. Other Maryland counties, particularly Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's, lead the state in recycling.

Two things have brought about Baltimore's recycling effort: Maryland's 1988 recycling law and a worsening landfill shortage. The city has about 10 years of space left at its Quarantine Road landfill. Officials have not been able to identify a new site.

According to a recently released draft of the city's recycling plan, about 2 percent, or 9,706 tons, of the estimated 451,700 tons of trash generated by city homes is expected to be recycled this year. Another 33,600 tons of trash generated by offices, factories and other commercial operations in the city, or about 8 percent, also is expected to be recycled.

City officials acknowledge that estimating recycling by commercial operations is difficult, because that waste is handled by private haulers. If residential and commercial recycling are taken together, about 5 percent of the city's trash now is recycled.

Chidsey, formerly the city's trash-collection supervisor, is optimistic about the city's recycling plan. But he knows it is challenging.

"I'm developing a major new program with no new money," he said.

According to the city plan, much of the cost of recycling is to paid for by using money that would otherwise go to hauling trash to the city landfill or one of two incinerators. The annual cost is expected to range from about $1.2 million in the current fiscal year to about $3.5 million by fiscal year 2000.

Two of 20 designated recycling zones are to receive curbside collection first. Neighborhoods included are Homeland, Roland Park, Guilford, Woodberry and Hampden in the north-central section and parts of Hamilton, Beverly Hills and Gardenville in the northeastern section.

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