In a back room at Klein's Super Thrift Market in Bel Air, a cardboard crusher moans, groans, whines and wheezes as it devours an endless buffet of boxes.
The greasy, 30-year-old machine, which quickly flattens up to 1 ton of boxes before they are shipped to a local recycler, hardly qualifies as advanced technology.
Yet county administrators are looking to such processes used by industry to play an important role in the modern-day recycling movement.
Boosting recycling efforts by Harford business and industry is a critical -- if overshadowed -- aspect of the county's plan to reduce by 15 percent the garbage entering the county landfill, said Robert Donald, director of the Harford Department of Public Works.
Under a state order, all Maryland counties and Baltimore City must devise plans for making significant reductions in the amount of waste dumped in landfills.
Harford's plan, which soon will be reviewed by the County Council and must be in place by January 1994, calls for a mix of programs for reaching the 15-percent goal.
The feature of the plan is a $5 million trash-sorter that would be placed at the head of the county's waste incinerator and remove glass, plastic, aluminum, newspaper and other recyclables from residential garbage.
But the plan's other thrust would have the county helping Harford business and industry explore ways to redirect commercial garbage, which accounts for as much as one-third of the county's waste, Donald said.
As the recycling boom has grown, much attention has been focused on home recycling. A common image today is residents separating glass and aluminum cans from their kitchen garbage pail and hauling them to local recycling centers.
The county would like to see business take a cue from households, said Donald. And while residents tend to be motivated by doing their share to preserve the environment, the county wants to show businesses that other motivations exist -- namely profits.
Using cardboard crushers in the recycling of boxes is just one of many possibilities for commercial recycling, said Donald, but the process serves as an apt illustration.
To be sure, environmental awareness is not the sole reason that Klein's and other grocers use the machines, called balers. The presence of balers in grocery stores far predates the recent dawn of the recycling awareness.
For one, groceries generate colossal amounts of cardboard boxes. The Klein's store in Bel Air produces about 10 tons of cardboard a week, said Andrew Klein, a vice president of the family owned four-store county chain.
The baler provides a means of managing the clutter.
"It's almost like a natural disaster when our cardboard baler breaks down," he said.
But just as importantly, there's a tidy, if not huge, profit to be made. After the crushed boxes are baled with wire, the Klein's truck them to a local recycler, who pays the going rate of about $25 per ton.
"The economics dictate that you recycle cardboard and don't just trash it," said Howard Klein, Andrew's brother and a company vice president.
And, at about $8,000, acquiring a baler is not necessarily a financial hardship.
"By doing this, about 35 tons of cardboard a week is kept out of the landfill," said Andrew Klein. "And we feel better about recycling this stuff."
Though not all businesses generate cardboard, several other recycling possibilities exist in the commercial sector, Donald said. Recycling office paper could go a long way toward helping the county meets its trash-reduction goal, he said.
Also, as an example from the industrial sector, some Harford plastics manufacturers have begun reusing plastic containers that come off the production line defective. Instead of being pitched, the plastic is re-melted and used again.