Few sights look prettier to Kenneth Strong than a line of bulging blue bags sitting next to half-empty trash cans.
That's because Mr. Strong is the city's recycling coordinator, the man in charge of getting Baltimore residents to pack up their recyclables in their new blue bags.
The 42-year-old Baltimore native spent nine years working in community affairs for the state's attorney's office, a job he held there when now-Mayor Kurt Schmoke headed that office.
Mr. Strong says he believes his experience with the city's neighborhood leaders led Mr. Schmoke to tap him for the job.
Q. Earth Day is this week. Is the city's recycling office marking that in any way?
A. Yes. This week we are starting off a paper-recycling program in 17 city schools. Each school has designated a recycling coordinator on its staff. Browning-Ferris Industries is giving us containers for the schools and we've put one of the old blue bins that were used in the trial city recycling areas in each classroom.
We visited eight of the schools before last week's spring holiday to talk about recycling and that will continue to make visits this week. In addition, teachers have been given materials about recycling to include in their curricula. We hope this will be successful and that we can expand the effort.
So far, we find that children are often eager to get involved with recycling. Often, adults will tell us that they are recycling because their children made them do it.
Q. What is the current status of the city's recycling program?
A. As of last month, the entire city was getting recyclables picked up with its trash on the regular Thursday, Friday or Saturday pickup day. We had phased in the city neighborhood by neighborhood from the beginning of the year.
Now, half the city gets paper picked up one week while the other half gets containers. That's reversed the next week. Eventually, we want to move to everyone in the city getting one trash pickup and one recycling pickup per week.
Q. How successful is it so far?
A. In one of the most recent weeks that we have figures for, we collected 380 tons of paper and containers. That's about 13 percent of all the trash picked up that week. The average for recent weeks is about 10 percent. Certainly, the level of participation varies a lot from neighborhood to neighborhood.
We think it's a good start. We have a long way to go, but the fact is in that week we recycled 380 tons that were going into the regular trash collection before.
Q. And all of this is curbside collection?
A. Curbside is a word we avoid using. It has one meaning inside the industry, that you pick up the recyclables at people's homes, not at central collection sites. But too many people think that means you have to put them in front of the houses. What we want to emphasize is that your recyclables are collected in the same place that the rest of your trash is collected. If that's behind your house in the alley, that's where you put them.
In the first test areas, we did require that everything be placed in front of the house, but that was because we were using different trucks and some of them couldn't get down the alleys.
Now that we're using the regular trash trucks, they can make the pickups in the same place.
Q. Speaking of regular trash trucks, there have been some complaints from people who have carefully set out their containers so as not to break the bottles and then they watch the trash crew throw them into the truck and turn on the crusher. Is this going on?
A. No. The actual crusher is not being used in those trucks, just an arm that moves the bags further into the truck to make room for more. The glass does have to remain unbroken for the sorting process.
It can appear confusing because we are using regular trash trucks and crews to pick up recyclables. They are not painted a different color or anything. Perhaps they should be, but that is not the case now.
VTC We think the crews are doing a good job. We do get some complaints now and then and we go out and talk to the crews involved and make sure they understand the policies.
Q. Are you doing anything to raise the level of cooperation?
A. One program we have is to identify block captains all over the city. These people will go around their communities trying to educate their neighbors.
It's one thing if you get a brochure from City Hall, but it's another if one of your neighbors talks to you about it.
Q. Where did the idea for the blue bags come from? You were using bins in the trial areas.
A. Pittsburgh was using the bags. That's where we got the idea. They seemed easier to handle. We did just have a program where anyone who had bought one of the bins for $5 could exchange them for 20 blue bags donated by the people who make Glad bags. We got quite a few bins back and are using them in the school program.