Baltimore City should make recycling mandatory

May 21, 2001|By Jeff Tomhave

MAYOR MARTIN O'Malley's proposal to end Baltimore's blue-bag curbside recycling program is garbage.

This program was designed to serve the public health and conserve natural resources. Eliminating it may save the city about $500,000, but there are unknown costs that could eat these suspected savings.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this dilemma.

The city should move to make the program mandatory, and use an unexpected tax windfall to ease the financial burden on the city.

In 1976, Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). It authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set minimum standards for the generation, transportation, storage and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes. Conservation and recovery are accomplished through recycling.

States, including Maryland, were delegated this authority when they adopted programs consistent with the EPA standards. Baltimore's recycling program is now required under state law. Ending the recycling program could result in a lawsuit against the city for noncompliance. How much will that cost?

Since RCRA's passage, more than 7,000 local governments have established similar recycling programs for everything from glass and cans to yard clippings. One-quarter of the nation's trash is now handled through municipal recycling programs. As mayor of the "Greatest City in America," does Mr. O'Malley really want to supervise one more neglected program?

Mr. O'Malley has pointed to a low public participation rate in the recycling program to justify its elimination. Yet his own Department of Public Works has stated that there are hidden costs the city will pay for the disposal of this added material.

If there is no curbside collection, will people make the effort to use the current city-run drop-off collection centers? How much this ultimately will cost is anyone's guess.

Here's an idea. Make this a mandatory program, an investment in Baltimore's future. If the 10 percent voluntary participation rate can keep 5.6 million pounds of waste out of the disposal stream, why not increase that amount tenfold with everyone participating? Increase recycling to the point at which the collection would pay for itself.

As the result of a mistake in the state comptroller's office, Baltimore will now receive $9.3 million. The timing couldn't be better. Why not use the money to save the recycling program?

Preserving Baltimore's blue-bag recycling program can make the city safe and clean for children to play in front of their homes. It will also go a long way toward stopping Baltimore's decline.

Jeff Tomhave is executive director of the Tribal Association on Solid Waste & Emergency Response in Washington. He lives in Baltimore.

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