County plays matchmaker with trash, markets for its recycled products

January 25, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

When Elkridge residents stroll through Rockburn Branch Park, they may not notice what's under their feet.

The wood chips that pave pathways in the park are made of chipped wood pallets Howard County receives free from J. L. Brandt & Son Inc. of Elkridge. The raw wood chips are so greedy for nitrogen that they starve weeds in addition to providing a natural pathway surface, said Linda Fields, who heads the county's recycling program.

The company is one of a growing number of firms in or near the county that are providing the recycled products county officials were promoting yesterday.

"I think it's going to reduce the tax burden down the road," said county Executive Charles I. Ecker, explaining that the more the markets expand, the more can be recycled. The more the county recycles, the less it has to spend to dump trash in the Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, incinerate it or dispose of it by other methods.

The county is already saving about 10 percent in waste disposal costs by recycling about one-fifth of the county's trash, Ms. Fields said. In 1993, the county purchased about $167,000 worth of recycled or refurbished products, including auto engines, computers and acoustical tile, she said.

Mr. Ecker and Howard County Councilman Paul Farragut, a 4th District Democrat, met with newspaper and television reporters over lunch yesterday, surrounded by the fruits of recycling.

They included a fragrant basket of chopped-up Christmas trees, a round plug of recycled asphalt, bags of newsprint mulch and several chunks of "lumber" made of recycled plastic.

"The list of recycled products is growing, almost on a weekly basis," said Cecil Bray, deputy county administrator.

The message was simple: If the county government can use copier paper, computer printer paper, mulch and pavement made from recycled material, so can businesses and individuals.

Getting more people to use recycled products helps the county directly because it bolsters markets for the materials, even at the local level. That, in turn, makes it cheaper for the county to recycle and manage waste in general, Mr. Ecker said.

The county uses its ties with recycling associations and computer data bases to help match people who have unwanted material, such as used wood pallets, with people who want it. In addition, the county sponsors workshops for business people, students and anyone else who wants to learn what recycled products are available.

Mr. Farragut said he had considered legislation to speed the county's procurement of recycled products. The bill would have allowed the county to accept bids up to 15 percent higher than the lowest bidder to favor contractors using recycled materials.

Mr. Farragut said he decided against sponsoring the bill after he met with administration officials, who convinced him of their commitment to using recycled materials.

In addition, Mr. Bray explained that a more likely approach to promoting the use of recycled material is to ask for them in bid specifications.

"It's very difficult not to go with the low bidder, but we have to find a way to promote these products," Mr. Ecker said.

In some cases, Ms. Fields said, recycled products, such as printer paper, can be cheaper than products made with virgin materials.

In addition, local manufacturers can provide a source of products and a place to send recyclables, she said. Finding recycling firms in the Baltimore region saves the county shipping costs.

One of the local firms the county deals with is the Simpkins Paper Mill, just across the Patapsco River near Catonsville. All of the mixed paper collected on residential curbside routes is taken to the mill.

"Someone said, we'd like to recycle mattresses, and can we collect them in the county," Ms. Fields said.

Her office gave the recycler a place at the landfill so it could get mattresses directly from county residents.

Mr. Farragut praised the administration's efforts, and noted that county government had sometimes hampered promotion of recyclables in the past.

He said that when waste hauler and recycler Browning-Ferris Industries set up its "recyclery" in Elkridge, county regulations prohibited the company from using glass-based pavement on its parking lot.

In other cases, industry couldn't keep up with the county, Ms. Fields said.

When she asked makers of plastic bins used for curbside recycling whether they could make the bins out of recycled plastic, they balked at using more than 25 percent recycled material.

Now manufacturers sell bins that are made totally from recycled material.

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