Recycling in Howard County

November 16, 1993

Like the premature rumors of Mark Twain's death, fears that Howard County's recycling program lags behind those in other jurisdictions are greatly exaggerated.

Since recycling became a priority for Howard in 1988, the county has made steady strides to meet state-mandated goals.

At this juncture, the county's effort to dispose of one-fifth of its waste through recycling is only 2 percentage points shy of the mark. There is no reason to expect that the county won't meet the goal by the beginning of next year, the state's deadline.

Much has been made of the county's falling behind other metropolitan jurisdictions. But Howard is ahead of at least 12 other Maryland jurisdictions, and, to its credit, it has made progress without the benefit of the huge recycling staffs other counties amassed.

In Prince George's County, for instance, 31 percent of collected trash so far has been recycled. But P.G.'s effort has a staff of about 20 people; Howard's program employs only four.

The difference is significant because one of the roles of staff members is to go out and encourage recycling by local businesses, which can make up a large portion of any county's recycling effort.

Moreover, Baltimore City and Baltimore and Montgomery counties have yet to report the extent of their recycling initiatives. Also, the figures available account for only the first half of this year. Since then, Howard County has extended collection services to an additional 20,000 homes, which should increase its recycling percentage by 4 to 5 points.

There is much to scrutinize about recycling, not least of which is the slow opening of markets for recycled materials. But Howard's effort has been anything but shabby. Between January and June of this year, the county has collected 103,000 tons of trash, 18 percent of which was recyclable. Last year, 99,600 tons were collected, 12 percent recyclable.

The penalty for not reaching the 20 percent goal is for the state to halt the issuing of new building permits. In the unlikely event that Howard County fails to reach the goal, there will be plenty of time for criticism.

In the meantime, the county needs to focus its attention on curbing soil and ground water contamination found around several of its landfills. The recycling effort seems to be progressing fine.

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