City to trash some recycling

Budget cuts: Like closing of Baltimore libraries, cutbacks in program's service are a blow to city.

March 21, 2001

THIS IS A SAD day for everyone who supplemented their education with the wisdom of Kermit the Frog. Baltimore's decision to scale down the curbside recycling program shows he was dead right when he sang, "It's Not Easy Being Green."

With a big budget deficit looming, it's hard to argue against Mayor Martin O'Malley's belt-tightening efforts. But the end of pickups for glass, metal and plastic through the 10-year-old program -- just like the closing of public libraries -- also scrubs a secondary service whose elimination carries a devastating symbolic impact.

Over the past three decades, environmental consciousness-raising has made conservation such a part of our daily lives that an estimated 32 percent of the nation's total waste stream is recycled. That high number is explained by the fact that 61 percent of the nation's population has regular curbside recycling pickups, according to BioCycle magazine.

In recent months, though, these expensive programs have come under attack in many localities.

Among the reasons is the collapse of the recyclable glass market in many urban areas. Prices for discarded corrugated paper also have dropped.

Two weeks ago, Wisconsin's new Republican Gov. Scott McCallum proposed to cut the annual $24 million-a-year subsidy to local recycling by $10 million. Even though those initiatives are mandated by the state, the governor said the recycling program had become too expensive to run.

The Wisconsin example does not minimize the tragedy of Mayor O'Malley's decision.

Indeed, Baltimore's short-term savings may well be wiped out when another astronomically expensive landfill has to be built to bury regular trash.

Even though only 10 percent of city households participate in blue-bag collections and 15 percent bundle their discarded paper, recycling has become a way of life for many families. The least the city must do now is to offer plenty of convenient drop-off locations for Baltimoreans who want to continue this sensible practice of conservation.

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