Harford's Blue Bag success

June 04, 1993

Harford County this month completes the first year of its recycling program with a success rate that already meets the 1994 state goal of 20 percent. Buddy Blue Bag, the program's overstuffed mascot, would split a seam.

But there is an asterisk attached. The county got the 21 percent grade only with the help of an automatic 5 percent bonus for having the waste-to-energy incinerator in Magnolia.

Still, the countywide program is collecting one-third more recyclable material than it did a year ago, over 200 tons a week. New programs are being added to include more material, the business recycling campaign is gaining momentum and curbside collection has finally reached all of the county (with inclusion of all of Bel Air.)

Two pilot programs now recycle bulky box-springs and mattresses and collect old paint -- two longtime problems for landfill disposal. But neither program earns the county credit because the material is reused, not recycled: bedsprings for repairing beds, paint for charity rehab projects.

Individuals who cut down waste on their own (compost piles, reusable grocery bags, refillable containers) don't rack up points; there is credit only for recyclables. Yard waste recycling, even at official composting sites, doesn't always count.

The point is that state recycling goals for counties to meet by Jan. 1 are just that: goals. The exact score is not the measure of program success.

The figures used to derive the recycling rate are broad estimates, based on average household waste generation rates, which are divided by the volume of recyclable material actually collected.

All counties don't collect the same recyclable items. Some areas have mandatory recycling, others have voluntary programs; some offer curbside pickup, some provide collection centers.

Yet out of this mishmash comes the good news that Maryland's recycling rate has doubled from 9 percent in July 1991 to 19 percent in December 1992. And it continues to rise.

Harford was a leader in voluntary recycling, with the establishment in 1972 of Susquehannock Environmental Center, now said to be the oldest continuing recycling operation on this continent. It forced countywide curbside collection of blue bags by private haulers. The two-bag separation system for householders is easy and simple. Building on these strengths, the county should swiftly move this year toward a 25 percent goal, conserving land, energy and natural resources in the process.

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