Marylanders have been so eager to recycle their old bottles cans and paper that the state as a whole already is diverting nearly 20 percent of its trash from landfills and incinerators, well ahead of a mandatory recycling law that takes effect next year.
But six counties, including Anne Arundel and Howard, are falling short and could as a result face a state-imposed building moratorium, state officials say.
Despite misgivings expressed by some state and local officials when the legislature passed the law in 1988, most Maryland counties are at or near their recycling goals.
The Maryland Recycling Act requires counties with 150,000 people or more to recycle 20 percent of their trash by Jan. 1, 1994. Smaller counties must recycle 15 percent.
Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford and 10 other counties are "essentially reaching their goals," said Lori Scozzafava, Maryland's recycling coordinator. Five other counties, including Carroll, are "probably within reach" by the end of the year, she said.
Ms. Scozzafava, who spoke to a Maryland Recyclers Coalition convention in Baltimore last week, said the state could block the issuance of building permits in any county that fails to reach its recycling goal.
But State Environment Secretary Robert Perciasepe pledged that the state will work with the six counties to help them meet their recycling goals. The other counties lagging are Cecil, Dorchester, Garrett and Worcester.
Mr. Perciasepe said he will not waive any county's requirement to recycle, even though the law permits such exemptions. But he downplayed the prospect that he will ban building in any failing county, noting that all the counties have mounted recycling efforts.
"I'm not really worried about the suburban counties," he said. "I think the places that are going to be a big challenge are the rural counties."
Anne Arundel's recycling rate is 13 percent and Howard's is 12 percent -- among the lowest in the Baltimore area, according to state statistics for the last six months of 1992.
Since then, Arundel has extended curbside pickup of recyclables to all 116,000 homes getting county trash service. The county also plans to begin composting yard waste this fall and hopes to sign up more businesses in its voluntary commercial recycling program.
"We're going to turn over every single rock and do all the white-glove dusting necessary to reach the goal," said Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for the county's utilities department. The county may not reach its 20 percent goal by year's end, but "we're going to be awfully close."
Howard officials hope to boost the county's rate to 20 percent by making curbside recycling available to most households by July 1 and by placing recycling bins at apartments and condos by fall, said Betsy McMillion, the county's recycling coordinator.
Even so, Steven Hudgins, chief of the county's Division of Solid Waste, said the county needs to see greater participation among commercial enterprises before it can meet its goal.
"We're getting less than full cooperation from the commercial sector in reporting recycling," Mr. Hudgins said. "Getting to 20 percent by the January 1 target date is going to be a Herculean task. The goal is only achievable if we get a lot of commercial participation."
Meanwhile, Baltimore and other counties plan to expand their recycling efforts.
'Definitely on track'
In Baltimore County, curbside recycling is scheduled to be extended to all of the jurisdiction's 200,000 homes by 1995. About 93,000 homes are now involved in partial recycling programs, said Charlie Reighart, the county's recycling coordinator. "We're definitely on track and feel good about where we're going," Mr. Reighart said.
Baltimore City provides twice-monthly curbside recycling to all its 233,000 households. The city has recruited volunteers to encourage businesses to recycle and has launched a program, with the help of more than 100 electronics and drug stores, to recycle those "button" batteries used in watches and calculators.
"It may not add up to a ton a year, but recycling [these batteries] has some very important environmental impacts, and that is one of the untold stories of recycling," said Kenneth Strong, the city's recycling coordinator. The program keeps the batteries, which contain toxic mercury, from being incinerated or buried in landfills.
Education in pre-recycling
Carroll officials, concerned that recycling efforts may wane in the coming months, have discussed implementing a mandatory program. Curbside recycling is available to all county and town households, and the county ended last year with an average of 13 percent.
In Harford County, officials are pushing composting and waste reduction. "We're looking to educate people more in the area of pre-recycling," said Becky Joesting-Hahn, the county's assistant recycling coordinator. "We want people to think about what they buy, to take into consideration packaging. We have seen a decline in the waste stream, but we don't know exactly why."