Recycling building materials to aid low-income families

July 12, 1992|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

So, that brown marble sink turned out to be a bad idea because it clashed with your purple bathroom walls. And the wooden kitchen cabinets have too many scratches, and you're sick of them.

Thinking of throwing them away?

Don't. Just drop them off at Alpha Ridge landfill in Howard County like scores of residents and companies do. Not only will you be disposing of unwanted materials, but you'll be helping low-income families.

Since June 1991, workers from the Baltimore-based Loading Dock have salvaged 42 tons of homebuilding materials from the Alpha Ridge landfill in Marriottsville to help provide and improve homes for low-income families, said Hope Cucina, the executive director for the non-profit recycling group.

The first Saturday of each month between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., two Loading Dock workers post the group's 18-foot truck at the landfill. They wait for residents to throw away "what they consider trash," Ms. Cucina said, and then collect "the leftovers."

Homeowners, contractors, manufacturers and distributors leave surplus and damaged homebuilding materials, Ms. Cucina said. "We get sinks, lumber, floor coverings, cinder blocks, bricks, fencing, cabinets, toilets and sinks," Ms. Cucina said. "There have been times we've even gotten furniture, but we try and stay away from that.

"It's hard, because we know people who need furniture," Ms. Cucina continued, explaining homebuilding items are the group's focus.

The Loading Dock workers also retrieve paint, plumbing fixtures, doors, windows and counter tops, Ms. Cucina said.

"We collect over a million dollars worth of materials each year" from collection sites across the state, Ms. Cucina said.

After four hours of what she calls "scalvaging," Ms. Cucina said workers weigh the materials and transport them to the Loading Dock's 21,000-square-foot warehouse in Baltimore to sort.

Later, 2,600 non-profit groups with membership cards pick out what they need to help low-income families they serve.

Among the Loading Dock's non-profit members, who join after paying a nominal fee, are Christmas in April, Citizens Organized to Improve Living (COIL) and the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

Lew Schwartz, plant manager for Ryland Building Systems, said since December his company has donated $30,000 worth of excess materials, including vanity tops, metal doors and handrails.

"A metal door may have a ding in it, and obviously, we couldn't put it in a house that cost $150,000," Mr. Schwartz said of his homebuilding company.

He said Ryland likes the idea of helping people.

"It's just a win-win situation. Nobody loses," Ms. Cucina said of the program. "I think that feels really good.

"The donors win," Ms. Cucina said. "They get a tax write-off and save on dumping and storage fees," she said. Non-profit organizations save up to 75 percent on retail sales on the recycled materials, Ms. Cucina said.

Ms. Cucina said she didn't know how many Howard County residents have benefited from the collections, but said each year across the state 4,000 to 5,000 homes undergo some type of renovation.

The recycling program originated in Baltimore in October 1984 and has ballooned into the state's nucleus for excess homebuilding materials.

Howard County is the only county in the state to allow the Loading Dock to use county-run facilities for the operation.

Ms. Cucina said governments usually oppose allowing groups access to landfills because the insurance is so hefty.

Randy Brown, Howard County's recycling program coordinator, said he asked the Loading Dock to come, and worked out a legal agreement so the group accepts full responsibility for any injuries.

"I think it's great," Mr. Brown said. "There's an awful lot of us able materials being thrown away."

Each Saturday, Mr. Brown said 1,000 people visit the landfill to donate reusable items, including glass and mattresses. The landfill is opened 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Residents must pay a $1 annual permit fee, and companies are charged by the ton, he said.

The collection at Alpha Ridge has done so well that the Loading Dock plans to use Howard County as a model for other counties like Carroll and Montgomery, Ms. Cucina said.

Ms. Cucina said she "would love" for the Loading Dock to park a truck at all the state's landfills. "People could bring materials any time," she said.

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