Trash Haulers Warn County On Recycling

Education Is Critical To Successful Program

September 08, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Two Harford trash haulers conducting their own experimental curbsidetrash recycling programs say they've found customers want to recyclegarbage, but education is a key to getting people to do it right.

That's their message to county administrators as they map out a planto launch a countywide, voluntary curbside recycling program in January.

"One of the biggest stumbling blocks was educating customers as to what they could throw out in the tubs," said John McKenzie, owner of McKenzie Sanitation. He provided customers with free plastic tubs when he began his recycling project in December.

McKenzie, who makes a separate run to pick up the recyclable materials, said that when he finds materials in the tubs contaminated by food or accompanied bynon-recyclable lids, he leaves a flier behind in the tub.

"If they do it again, like leaving a spaghetti sauce jar with sauce and a lid, I just leave it in the tub. Either they understand, or they get irate and call and we explain it to them," McKenzie said.

"It's not a garbage pail; it's a recycling tub. I've had some people who canceled because it was too much trouble."

J. Robert Hooper, owner of Harford Sanitation, the other Harford trash hauler experimenting with recycling, agrees that education is the key to a successful program. One customer who truly wants to recycle is Jane Wilkinson, a Bel Air resident participating in the recycling program conducted by Harford Sanitation.

She is an experienced recycler who has taken plastic bottles, glass and newspapers to the non-profit Susquehannock Environmental Center near Bel Air for more than two years. She knows the plastic and aluminum containers she puts in the clear plastic recycling bags she buys from Harford Sanitation must be rinsed and that plastic tops on soda bottles are not recyclable.

But Hooper and McKenzie note that customers as organized and knowledgeable about sorting their trash as Wilkinson are few.

Still, many customers want to recycle,the haulers noted. McKenzie said the response he's seen to his experiment has been good -- about 400 to 600 of his 3,500 customers are recycling.

As for Harford Sanitation, about 50 of the original 1,500customers asked to participate in the experiment have been consistently recycling, said Hooper.

Fliers were handed out explaining the Harford Sanitation recycling program, Hooper said.

Some customers were initially confused about what materials would be accepted, he said, "but for the most part they're doing pretty well."

Both haulers take the recyclables they collect to the Susquehannock Environmental Center in Bel Air, where they are paid for the materials. McKenzie said checks from Susquehannock for a month's worth of recyclables average $250 to $325 a month in his tub-style recycling program. McKenzie estimated he's earned $1,200 to $1,500 for the approximately 64,000pounds of material he's taken to the center since he began the project in December.

"The money just about covers gas and wear and tearon the tires," said McKenzie.

Hooper agreed that there was littleprofit in recycling for haulers.

McKenzie is worried that the blue plastic bags the Harford County is considering using in a countywide recycling program could hamper efforts to educate consumers.

"The problem with colored bags is that it's hard to pinpoint customers not going by the guidelines," McKenzie said. "I'm not sure how it's going to work." He plans to conduct his own experiment with colored plastic bags in about six weeks.

To avoid wide-scale confusion among customers, Hooper said he began by offering the opportunity to recycle to only 1,500 of his 18,000 customers. He thinks the county should begin its program the same way in a small area as well and then expand the service countywide gradually. That way, he said, the county could overcome glitches in the system.

On the route, Hooper's employees inspect the clear bags to see if customers have made mistakes and included improper or poorly prepared materials. The clear bags with good quality recycling material are stored in the front of the trash truck.

If a clear bag contains non-recyclable items, Harford Sanitation workers put it in with the rest of the trash.

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