Getting slackers to recycle Anne Arundel County: Persuasion alone may not increase rates in apartment complexes.

December 04, 1997

WHEN IT COMES to recycling, people living in apartment complexes are slackers. That's according to Anne Arundel County statistics, which show that about 70 percent of single-family households are recycling, while only a small fraction of residents of multi-family units separate their trash. Concerned that county recycling rates are beginning to level off, officials have decided to focus attention on getting apartment owners and residents to recycle.

County government's motive is simple. The more people recycle, the longer the life of the Millersville landfill. The facility's use could be extended to the year 2060 if half the county's trash is recycled.

At present, one-third of the county's solid waste avoids the landfill. Since about 40,000 people live in apartments, getting them to recycle will substantially reduce the amount of trash buried in the ground and will help the county reach that 50-percent benchmark.

It isn't that folks who live in apartments are opposed to the idea of recycling. They just have to make an extra effort if they want to do it. Many apartment complex managers don't want to bother with separate bins for glass, paper and metal. Many claim they don't have space. They also point out that they have to pay their commercial trash haulers extra if they recycle.

The county should use every means possible to encourage these apartment managers to increase recycling rates. Since cost seems to be a major impediment, relying on voluntary efforts is unlikely to dramatically increase participation.

If after a year or two, apartment rates remain sluggish, county officials should not hesitate to use more coercive methods -- from penalties for not recycling to a special solid waste assessment. When recycling participation rates in multi-family units approach that of single-family houses, these fees can be eliminated.

Why should the burden of extending the life of the landfill fall on the majority of county households that tote their bins out each week? If apartment residents are responsible for dumping trash into the landfill that could have gone elsewhere, perhaps they should bear more of the cost of having to prepare another multi-million-dollar landfill.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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