Baltimore City's Jump on Recycling

December 01, 1991

It is not often that financially strapped Baltimore City offers services that are lacking in more affluent Baltimore County. Yet curbside collection of recyclable paper has been introduced throughout the city while the county is still plodding and procrastinating in its recycling efforts.

Beginning in January, the city will also phase in a program of collecting glass, plastic, aluminum and tin cans. When that happens, the city will offer more people curbside recycling that any other jurisdiction in Maryland.

This discrepancy between recycling efforts in two neighboring jurisdictions -- which in 1989 even designed together their initial recycling proposals -- puzzles many Baltimore County residents. They simply cannot understand how Baltimore City is able to offer services that Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden only talks about as forthcoming in 1994.

What explains this difference is commitment. The administration Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke vowed to make recycling work in Baltimore on a lean budget. Using existing garbage trucks and gradually dropping the second collection day of the week, the city believes it can actually save taxpayers money through recycling. Instead of regarding recycling as a replacement service, Baltimore County, in contrast, has so far viewed it as a costly extra effort. In tough economic times, "you can't just snap your fingers" and institute a countywide curbside collection program, Mr. Hayden argues.

Examples from various parts of the nation show that recycling works in jurisdictions that have made it a political priority and designed a system that is as easy and predictable as regular garbage collections. In that sense, Baltimore City's effort still leaves a lot to be desired. Operating without a permanent coordinator -- a situation which is about to change -- the city program often is a chaotic collection effort in which regular garbage crews operating on a certain route do not know whether the recycling truck has already been in the neighborhood and vice versa. But these kinds of problems will be resolved with time.

No city or county has yet implemented a perfect recycling program. But those jurisdictions that are making recycling easy are achieving remarkable progress. In many ways, the key to successful recycling is predictability. Households generating recyclable items expect it, so do industries buying and processing recyclables.

We hope that through its ambitious and innovative recycling program Baltimore City will shame the county government in Towson into action.

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