How to lose 250 pounds

Recycling: This practice came of age in the '90s, but Marylanders can do even better.

January 10, 2000

WHEN officials in Anne Arundel County wanted to learn how well recycling efforts were working, they sampled trash at the Millersville landfill.

The results were revealing: Half the waste buried in the ground was recyclable. Public works officials estimate that 59,000 tons of reusable waste is headed to trash cans instead of recycling bins. That's 250 pounds per resident each year -- way too much.

About 70 percent of the trashed recyclable waste is paper. Residents can make a big difference by recycling junk mail, a sizable chunk of that 250 pounds.

Marylanders responded fairly well to the call to recycle. In 1991, residents and businesses recycled only about 12 percent of waste. Seven years later, the amount was nearly triple, 33 percent.

Recycling is much easier than a decade ago when the state and local jurisdictions launched efforts to keep reusable paper, cans and bottles out of landfills. Residents had to separate different kinds of paper. Now, most can be lumped together -- catalogs, junk mail, even envelopes with plastic windows. Cans and bottles can be mixed for curbside pickup. After finishing this newspaper, you can bundle it with nonplastic string or put it in a paper bag with other paper.

The ease of recycling helped Marylanders salvage 3 million tons of reusable waste in 1998. The environmental benefits are enormous, including preservation of trees and other natural resources.

Identifying what is recyclable may help the effort: Glossy paper, old telephone books, cereal boxes, gift wrap, laundry detergent containers -- all can be reused. Maryland's response has been superior to some states, such as Wyoming's 4 percent recycling rate. But other states such as New Jersey (43 percent) show that Maryland can do better.

Waste recycled

Anne Arundel: 41 percent

Baltimore City: 34 percent

Baltimore County: 34 percent

Carroll County: 43 percent

Harford County: 49 percent

Howard County: 36 percent

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