Baltimore County's curbside recycling effort, slow to get started, is now more than half complete, despite an unsettled market for recyclable goods.
Some 28,000 households in neighborhoods such as Greater Rosedale and Stoneleigh/Wiltondale began curbside recycling in November -- the largest monthly expansion in the county's 3-year-old recycling program.
So far, 84,000 of the county's 200,000 single-family homes get curbside recycling service in a variety of forms as the county works to develop a model for its final effort. Its goal is to have 155,000 homes recycling trash by Jan. 1, 1994.
The county lags far behind Baltimore City, which has full curbside recycling. But officials argue -- and some recycling advocates agree -- that jumping into a full program makes little sense until stable markets develop for the county's recyclable waste.
The county already has exceeded its state mandate to recycle 20 percent of its waste by the 1994 deadline, said Charles M. Reighart, the recycling manager.
From January through June of this year, the county generated 414,651 tons of trash and recycled 69,536 tons.
"Our recycling story is relatively unsung, but our effort is working and working well," Mr. Reighart said, "and we will make progress in this area in the future. There is still room for improvement, and we are working in that direction."
The county now serves communities as broad as Greater Hereford, where 1,188 households scattered over 24 square miles receive mixed-paper pickup every third week, and as small as Campus Hills in Towson, where 375 households in less than one-quarter of a square mile have mixed paper, grass and leaves, and bottles and cans picked up on a weekly rotating basis.
So far only two neighborhoods, Campus Hills and Overlea-Linover, have recycling pickups for all three types of trash.
"Campus Hills was an area that expressed an intense interest in recycling, and because of its compact size, we felt it was a good candidate for the full range of recycling pickup," said Mr. Reighart.
Overlea-Linover started as a curbside recycling pilot project in November 1990, and that service continues.
A dramatic change
Recycling has dramatically changed the way Kathy Fernandez and her husband, Jorge, look at trash. Before recycling came to their Overlea area neighborhood, they routinely set out three bags of mixed trash a week.
"Now we recycle everything we can, from toilet paper rolls to junk mail, from plastic milk jugs to baby food jars," Mrs. Fernandez said. The family has cut the amount of waste headed to the landfill or incinerator to one bag a week.
Most of the other 48 recycling areas receive curbside collection for only one recyclable material -- usually mixed paper, the largest category of material that would otherwise be burned or buried.
The county hopes to add more bottle and can pickups to its curbside collection if markets and processing factors allow it, said Mr. Reighart.
The county is experimenting with various pickup schedules. In some areas, one of the two regular weekly trash collections is a recycling pickup. In other areas, every fourth trash collection is // for recyclables.
A July report showed that residents are likely to set out more recyclables when a recycling pickup is substituted for a regular trash run than when a recycling pickup is added to the regular schedule.
Carol Bernstein, a Hereford recycling activist, praised the county for experimenting and asking residents for feedback. But now, she said, it's time to move.
"The time for experimenting, I feel, is over and the time has come for the county to determine where we go from here with a !B curbside recycling program," said Mrs. Bernstein.
Mr. Reighart acknowledged that a permanent system needs to be set in place but said that the county has no timetable.
The county started the year with 8,000 homes receiving curbside recycling. As of last week, the number had increased more than tenfold.
Paper is main item
Most of the increase involves recycling pickups for mixed paper only, because that's the easiest type of recycling to manage.
By way of contrast, all of Baltimore City has curbside recycling collection that includes both mixed paper and mixed containers.
Mr. Reighart said the county is at a disadvantage because of its size. The city covers only 92 square miles compared with the county's 633. But he said the county has also moved more deliberately than the city.
Expanding a recycling program too fast, Mr. Reighart said, runs the risk of outstripping the demand or the market for recycled materials.
John Ciekot, chairman of the Baltimore County Recycling Coalition, agreed with Mr. Reighart's assessment.
"I refuse to nail the county on the progress it has made in curbside recycling," said Mr. Ciekot. "Mr. Reighart is correct: You have to have a relationship between the amount you are recycling and what the market and the demand is for those recycled products."