Recycling needs a boost, Arundel study finds

Half of landfill trash could be processed, reused

January 02, 2000|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County homeowners could be recycling half of what they throw out, according to the results of a trash study.

County officials released late last month the results of a federally sponsored research project aimed at learning what residents in the county's voluntary residential recycling program are doing right and what they could be doing better.

While the study that started a year ago showed people throughout the county are recycling glass bottles, aluminum cans and yard waste in amounts exceeding expectations, residents are failing to set aside paper products.

Last year, residents threw out more than 42,000 tons of paper, according to the report. A ton of compressed paper is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

County officials say this is largely the result of people not knowing they can recycle magazines, glossy catalogs, junk mail, cereal boxes, phone books, books and cardboard -- as well as newspapers. With the holidays here, officials are trying to get the word out to recycle wrapping paper and gift boxes as well.

"It used to be true that we couldn't accept slick, glossy paper," said Beryl Eismeier, recycling programs manager for Anne Arundel County's Department of Public Works. "But with new technological advances, we can take all of that, and there is market out there specifically for magazine stock."

With the county's landfill in Millersville expected to be full by 2020 at the current fill rate, county officials are hard pressed to get residents to recycle more. The landfill could be shut down before 2020 if landfills in Virginia stop accepting Anne Arundel's trash.

"We currently direct more than 60 percent of the trash out of the county," said Department of Public Works spokesman John A. Morris. "That market appeared suddenly in the last four or five years, and it could disappear just as suddenly."

The county's contract with the Virginia landfills expires in 2003.

Eismeier said one of the most important things officials learned from the study is that they do not need to add new recyclable materials to the program. They need only encourage more recycling of items that are accepted now. The report found that 50 percent of the trash in landfills could have been recycled, she said.

The industry has seen significant advances in the past 10 years in what can be done with recycled goods, officials said. High-grade white paper can now be made out of recycled products; before, it was difficult to get anything but yellow or brownish paper.

Across the country, newly formed companies are offering pulverized tires for use in road pavement, office carpets made from plastic soda bottles and cornstarch packing "peanuts" to replace those made of Styrofoam -- a particularly problematic material because it takes up a lot of space, cannot be burned or recycled without sending toxic fumes into the air, and takes hundreds of years to decompose.

The study results also showed a larger-than-expected amount of plastic in the county's waste stream, Eismeier said, indicating society's shift away from glass containers.

The county has been testing recycling programs at apartment and condominium complexes. But it has seen little interest from residents, even though Anne Arundel has offered to pay for the first year of the program. One condominium complex in Annapolis found the program saved it money because the company it hired to pick up recyclables was cheaper than the company that picked up its regular trash, Eismeier said.

The county has also been offering classes in composting to residents, promoting the process as a way to get better soil for growing vegetables.

"The overall theme is that the county is doing a good job," Eismeier said, "but a lot more can be done."

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