Volunteers at the Susquehannock Environmental Center in Bel Air wondered for years whether the rest of the world ever would catch up to them.
Born in a high school ecology club, Susquehannock is among the oldest continuously operating recycling centers in the nation. It just celebrated its 20th anniversary.
When a science teacher named Bob Chance and his eco-club began accepting recyclables from Harford countians in January 1972, they were considered tree-huggers, the counter-culture flakes. Even into the late 1980s, before the public ever heard of "blue bags" or knew how to tell a No. 1 plastic from a No. 2, trash drop-offs were trickling in to the group's rustic cabin on the edge of town.
Then came Earth Day 1990, the Boston Tea Party of the recycling movement. Susquehannock took in 1.5 million pounds of trash the year before that event. This year, it expects 8 million pounds.
Susquehannock's quiet work over a generation has left an imprint on Harford County. A pilot recycling program just begun in several Bel Air communities has attracted an impressive 81 percent participation rate with only 3 percent of the recyclables contaminated by other garbage. That's three times better than the national average. Susquehannock has taught Harford well.
With public enthusiasm rising and government finally lumbering into the picture, Susquehannock's role will change. The non-profit organization is apt to become more an educator and less a laborer in the ways of saving the environment. Mr. Chance, already proven to be an ecological visionary, now peers ahead and sees more reusable packaging in the marketplace and garbage mounds ready to be turned into safe recreation areas -- Mount Trashmores.
The volunteers at Susquehannock, more than 2,000 over the years, know you can tell a lot about a person by the stuff he or she discards.
You can tell a lot about the pioneers of Susquehannock by what they felt was worth saving.