Spotty record of recycling

May 15, 1992

Two months ago, Baltimore City altered its garbage collection routine. One of the two weekly general pickups was replaced with a recyclable material pickup day. Mixed paper is collected one week; glass, metal and plastic containers stuffed into blue plastic bags are collected the next.

During the first two weeks of May, 294 tons of mixed paper and nearly 94 tons of glass, metal and plastic containers were collected. The amount of paper gathered during that time period translates into saving 4,994 trees, according to Kenneth J. Strong, the city's recycling coordinator.

While many local governments are crying the budget blues and backing off their recycling goals, Baltimore is forging ahead. Its record so far is both encouraging and spotty.

Some up-scale neighborhoods have quickly adapted to collection of recyclables on the second weekly pickup day. But residents in many other areas still are either ignorant of the new system or disregard it. For that reason, general garbage still has to be removed from many neighborhoods on recycling days.

At the end of the summer -- which traditionally produces more garbage than the other seasons -- Baltimore City officials will make an effort to eliminate the second weekly pickup of general garbage. That may mean some realignment of operations and readjustments by householders.

The city is, for example, talking to a private contractor interested in collecting compostable yard waste. And new specifications are being prepared for bids by mid-July to process mixed paper and the blue-bag material. The goal is to devise a pricing system that would respond to market fluctuations.

In recent times, prices and demand for recyclables have gone through some wild gyrations. Such a glut exists for paper that the city is actually paying $19.10 a ton to have it taken away. According to Mr. Strong, that still is $15 a ton cheaper than having it burned in an incinerator. On the other hand, the price for aluminum cans has been steadily rising in recent months, hovering now around 44 cents a pound.

Recycling through municipal trash collection is still in its infancy. Only 70 municipalities use the blue-bag collection system that Baltimore City has adopted. Yet nothing illustrates the potential of recycling better than the interest some of the nation's biggest garbage haulers are showing in it.

Next week, Browning-Ferris Industries will inaugurate a $4 million, state-of-the-art facility in Elkridge in Howard County, to separate various grades of recyclable paper as well as plastic jugs, tin and aluminum. That will position the company, which already handles Anne Arundel County's recycling, to capture more of the metropolitan market.

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