Bring recycling closer to home

Dan Rodricks

November 04, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

The cost of collecting recyclable trash from the curbs in front of our homes represents the balance on an old account and a deposit on a new one. It's as much an overdue bill for too many wasteful decades of filling dumps with trash as it is a user-fee for the future-Earth.

I look at the few cents I pay Baltimore each year to haul off my recyclables as both a debt and an investment. It's money wisely spent.

And if you judge public opinion by either formal polls or informal conversation, there is every indication that most people around Baltimore feel the same way. In a survey conducted by the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy, three out of four people said they supported spending more money for recycling. That's nothing less than extraordinary in the current economic-political climate.

Sixty percent of people in the same survey said they would be willing to switch to a once-weekly trash pickup system if a second pickup day were devoted to recyclables.

Everywhere I go, I hear the same sentiment, especially from people who already have done some recycling. The more you do this, the more you believe in it.

This week, the city of Baltimore celebrates the one-year anniversary of its expanded curbside recycling project. The project cost about $200,000 to start up last fall. There are 20,000 lucky households in the north side of the city benefiting from this right now. That's four times the number of households that get the same service in Baltimore County, our wealthier neighbor to the north.

Curbside service is way overdue in Baltimore County. From Catonsville to White Hall, citizens should be clamoring for it. And they shouldn't allow their county to worm out of the state-ordered mandate to recycle 20 percent of its garbage by 1994.

We've been putting off paying this bill long enough.

Right now, recycling in the county is limited to a handful of drop-off centers that have been run by hearty volunteers. They've collected hundreds of tons of plastic, paper, glass and metal for reprocessing. But the volunteers are starting to suffer burnout -- one drop-off center already has closed under the strain of a help shortage -- and the time has come for the county to do what the city has already done. It's time for the city to go even further with recycling.

Public officials who can call those shots should not be shy about moving forward. There is a very strong constituency behind recycling. For most people, it's the only way they feel they can help heal the Earth.

I visited one of the county's recycling drop-off centers yesterday -- the Owings Mills Metro Station parking lot -- and came away even more confident in the belief that there has been a quiet but massive awakening to the environmental problems we have caused with our tradition of waste. This isn't some yuppie/baby boomer trend. This isn't something kids discovered in a class project and forced on their parents, though I'm sure that happened in some cases. This awakening is wide, deep and cross-generational. There were people of all ages in Owings Mills yesterday morning.

In the last decade, the problems of the Earth seemed to grow so large and unreachable that more and more people, frustrated that they can't personally patch the hole in the ozone layer, groped around for some meaningful action.

And they discovered recycling.

And once they got into it, they found that it didn't disrupt their lives.

There's really nothing to it. Try it a few times and soon you'll be incorporating it into your daily chores, without a second thought.

Save soda and beer cans, rinse them out, throw them into a bin. Do the same with tin cans. Do the same with plastic bottles and jugs. Don't throw newspapers into the trash. Stack them, bundle them, tie them. When you see, from week to week, how much this amounts to, you'll wish you had started recycling 10 years ago.

Despite the dramatic change in public attitude about the environment, too many of us are lazy. We want to save the Earth, but we want to do it within walking distance from home.

That's why curbside service makes sense. It should be offered everywhere. People want it. They're willing to pay for it. And they'll use it.

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