Some county businesses are making money these days off an unlikely commodity -- their garbage.
While county officials have stepped up efforts this year to encourage commercial recycling of everything from aluminum cans to computer paper, many companies find themselves a jump ahead.
Optic Graphics in Glen Burnie, a printer and manufacturer of vinyl and cloth binders, recycles its scrap cardboard, paper and vinyl. Arecycler buys the paper, while the vinyl supplier buys back the vinyl.
Fort Meade, the county's second largest employer, has recycled more than 1 million pounds of aluminum cans, cardboard, office paper,computer paper, wooden pallets and printer cartridges since last October.
The Army base sells most of those materials to the highest bidding vendor, said Varney Smith, Fort Meade's recycling program manager. Any profits go back into the base, Smith said. Last year, the Army built a playground with the extra money.
Even when they can't sell their waste, some companies save money by recycling. Though OpticGraphics gets nothing for the cardboard, the printing firm saves money on garbage collection. Since it stopped throwing away cardboard, the company has cut its number of dumpsters from 10 to four, said KurtFranke, production manager.
The county keeps no statistics on thenumber of businesses that have set up recycling programs, but eventually plans to ask companies to report how much commercial waste they're keeping out of landfills, said Carol Taylor, Anne Arundel's recycling projects assistant.
Maryland law requires that all counties reduce landfill waste 20 percent by Jan. 1, 1994. Residential waste must be cut 12 percent. By the end of the year, county officials expect weekly curbside collection of plastic, newspapers, bottles, aluminum cans and glass to reach more than 25,000 homes.
So far, the countyhas limited its services to homes, with one big exception.
Through a pilot program started two years ago, the county allows Annapolis Mall to dump clean corrugated cardboard at the Millersville Landfill recycling center, which saves the mall from paying a landfill tippingfee.
Mall Manager Paula McDermott looks at the partnership as mainly benefiting the environment. Even though the mall is spared the tipping fee, it must spend money to rent a compactor and haul the cardboard, she said.
The county has begun encouraging businesses to initiate their own recycling programs.
"We're looking to commercial companies to pick up the ball and go with it," said Anne Sieling, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works. "They are capable and should include it into their cost of doing business. If the county triedto shoulder the responsibility, it would be mind boggling."
The department is working on a guide to commercial recycling and plans to offer grants to help businesses educate employees. The county also wants to encourage waste haulers to pick up recyclables, Taylor said.
Some contractors charge to haul waste such as newspapers, she said.Still, they typically charge less than landfills. And as more and more companies use their services, contractors' charges should drop even more, she said.
One problem has been the scarcity of companies that buy recyclables, Sieling said.
"There are not enough companiesmaking a profit on recycling," she said.
Some businesses, such asGiant Food Co., one of the 10 largest employers in the county, offerrecycling services in part to satisfy customers.
"People are justreally concerned about environmental issues these days," said Giant spokesman Mark Roeder. "I don't think there's any question that people recognize how important it is for all of us to be environmentally sensitive. The key is making it as easy as possible for the customer to participate."
After testing a plastic bag recycling program lastyear at 30 sites, the company has expanded it to all stores. Customers can return plastic shopping bags to bins in front of each store. Giant sends the bags to their manufacturer, Mobile Oil Co., which recycles them into a variety of products.
In December, Giant began selling reusable mesh bags customers can purchase for their groceries instead of using plastic or paper. The grocery chain also recycles about 49,000 tons of cardboard each year and collects newspapers and aluminum cans at some stores.
Ronald Reifler, recycling officer for the state Department of the Environment, offered some tips for setting up business recycling programs during a West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce workshop last week.
He suggested that small businesses work together, since recycling contractors rarely make stops at offices with fewer than 40 employees. Contractors need to know how much recyclable waste a business generates.
Reifler has found officerecycling works best when each worker has a small cardboard box for recyclable waste on his desk or file cabinet. He stressed the importance of top level managers supporting recycling programs and motivating employees by showing them results, such as the number of trees saved.
And finally, he said, whoever heads the effort should be sure to follow up.
He recalled one employer's method of rating garbage cans on a pass/ fail basis.
"If there were more than two pieces of 8 1/2 by 11 paper, that can failed," he said.
With a 35 percent fail rate, the employer went back to his workers and urged them to do better.