Contracts on recycling are in limbo

Company serving counties, Baltimore to quit business

`Markets are not good'

Officials scrambling to find new vendor for curbside service

Carroll County

September 21, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare and Childs Walker | Mary Gail Hare and Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The apparent financial troubles of a Baltimore recycling company have several metropolitan counties scrambling to find a vendor to handle tons of discarded glass, plastic, cardboard and paper.

Partners Quality Recycling Services has told Carroll, Harford, Howard counties and Baltimore that it intends to quit the business and will terminate its contracts at stated expiration dates.

In Carroll, which recycles more than half of its trash, that would be June 30, 2003. Baltimore will rebid its contract this year, said Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher. Howard will rebid its contract in July, said John O'Hara, chief of the county's bureau of environmental services. Partners officials were not available for comment yesterday.

Kocher said he could not comment on the company's financial state but said the city's understanding is that Partners cannot handle Baltimore's recycling needs long-term. The company is responsible for all curbside recycling in Baltimore.

"The main thing is we're going to make sure there's no interruption in Baltimore's recycling service," Kocher said.

James M. Irvin, Howard's director of public works, said he is aware of indications of financial problems at Partners, "but, as of now, it's business as usual with them."

Partners handles all curbside hauling and recycling for Howard, and Irvin said that the company has guaranteed its contract. But news of the company's struggles is troubling, he said, because the recycling business has few competitors.

Howard paid Partners $250,000 last fiscal year.

Carroll officials said yesterday that they also are unsure the company will be able to honor a five-year commitment that began in 1998, and they authorized a search for a contractor. Partners could sell its contract with Carroll, said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services.

"I am not keen on having another entity negotiate our contract for us," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "We should definitely negotiate to see if we can come up with something else to benefit the county. We don't want to be sitting here 21 months from now wondering what to do."

Bob Ernst, recycling program coordinator in Harford, said he has heard of financial difficulties at Partners but said the company has assured the county it will honor its contract, which began in July 2000 and ends in 2003.

Harford sends only its paper to Partners and pays a second company to haul paper from the county landfill to the Partners facility in Rosedale.

Frank Henderson, Harford's deputy public works director, said the county has noticed no service problems.

If problems arise, Henderson said, the county could send its paper to one of the other companies that bid the contract.

Recycling, which is required by the state, saves taxpayers thousands annually. Carroll's independent trash haulers collect more than 11,000 tons of recyclable materials annually, far above the 20 percent mark required by the state, said Horst.

Carroll paid Partners about $100,000 last year to handle recycled materials, an average of about $9 a ton. The county pays $42 a ton for trash that is incinerated.

"Partners has done a good job for us," Horst said. "But we know that the recycling markets are not good. Government creates mandates to recycle, but there is little effort to create markets on how to reuse these materials."

Horst pointed to glass as an example. Carroll sends about 1,200 tons of glass to Partners annually. Partners invested in equipment to separate broken glass that manufacturers could reuse. New industry standards for recycled glass have been upgraded.

"Partners has about 50,000 tons of glass right now that it cannot sell because it does not meet recently enacted standards for glass manufacturers," Horst said.

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