Recycling effort pays off

Public costs: Major contractor to exit business, but city and counties must continue valuable programs.

September 29, 2001

RECYCLING depends on more than government mandates and feel-good public participation. It depends on a willingness to pay the price to keep the system running.

That price of operations will likely be going up, with news that a major recycling company serving three metro counties and Baltimore City is quitting the business.

These jurisdictions will have to find other firms to collect and recycle their mountains of used paper, glass and plastic. And there is disappointingly little competition for such contracts, with still-limited markets for reusing these discarded materials.

At the same time, public acceptance and even demand for recycling programs is growing. Over a quarter of the country's municipal waste is reused or recycled.

In Maryland, that recycling rate is higher, thanks to state law requiring county programs. But each jurisdiction determines how to meet the law and how to finance its recycling effort.

Private contractors like Partners Quality Recycling Services Inc. of Middle River play a major role. That firm, which has contracts with the city and Harford, Howard and Carroll counties, says it will exit the industry as those agreements expire. Carroll and Harford can wait until 2003, but Howard County and Baltimore have to find an alternative vendor in less than a year.

The impact will likely be higher trash collection fees for individuals and higher disposal costs for local governments. Maybe even a cutback in curbside collections.

That could result in less "recyclable" waste collected, with more going into legal landfills or illegally dumped or burned.

And that would be a greater economic loss for the community. Because the primary aim of recycling programs is to avoid the even more costly, and environmentally destructive, option of throwing everything into landfills.

Landfills cost more per ton to build and operate than even highly subsidized recycling programs. It's ever harder to find sites for landfills that can meet demanding environmental and health standards.

Recycling saves, economically and environmentally. That's why the effort, and public financial support, must continue.

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