Mayor Schmoke vowed to make recycling work in Baltimore on a lean budget, unlike many programs that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. So by using existing trash trucks (washed out and marked with yellow signs on recycling days) and other efficiency measures, the city believes it can actually save taxpayers money through recycling.
Here's how: The city must pay about $37 for every ton of trash it dumps into the BRESCO or Pulaski incinerators or deposits in the Quarantine Road landfill, but it can get rid of recyclable paper, glass, aluminum, tin, and plastic milk jugs and soda bottles for free. So each ton the city recycles saves money.
In addition, the city will gradually drop the second trash collection day of the week, picking up recyclables on that day instead. For instance, if a neighborhood's trash is collected on Tuesday and Friday, the city will collect trash on Tuesday and recyclables on Friday.
That means the city can recycle trash without extra collection costs.
By summer, when neighborhoods can leave most recyclable trash at the curbside one day a week, he said, it will cost $10.60 per household to collect and dispose of regular garbage.
But it will cost only $1.38 per household for recyclables.
Unlike some cities that have struggled to find markets for used paper, Baltimore has a local business willing to take an endless supply of almost every type of paper.
Chesapeake Paperboard Co., located near Fort McHenry, also has agreed not to charge the city -- at least so far -- for taking the paper to produce paperboard used in making small boxes.
And the company can take a lot more paper than the city is now giving it. Currently, Chesapeake uses a month of the city's paper collections in about three days of manufacturing.
The other recyclables the city will begin collecting in January will go to G&L Recycling of Baltimore, which sorts the material and sells it to manufacturers.
Besides trimming trash collection costs, Baltimore will be helping the environment and saving energy. Recycling reduces air pollution from trash-burning incinerators and water pollution from overstuffed landfills.
Also, recycling one 3-foot-high stack of newspapers saves a tree and recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to burn a 100-watt light bulb for 3 1/2 hours.
Despite the current low collection rate for recyclables, city officials and recycling volunteers say they are optimistic Baltimore can overcome its initial blunders.
"The numbers are modest to be sure, but the current planning for recycling is more advanced than in most cities in the country," said Neil Seldman, director of waste utilization at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and an adviser to Baltimore's volunteer coalition.
"It is a wonderful example of cooperation between unions, volunteers and the city."