Recycling changes produce a mixed bag

New calendar: City scraps easy-to-remember pickup schedule, inviting confusion on trash days.

January 25, 2002

DOES NEW MEAN better? The city's reconfigured recycling calendar certainly raises that question because it contains changes assured to produce confusion.

For years, the pickup days were easy to remember: paper one week, blue bags of bottles and cans the next.

But come Monday, all that changes.

The number of recycling pickups will not change. But blue bags will be collected on every second and fourth Monday of the month.

In Northwest Baltimore, paper recyclables will be collected the next day. But since the second and fourth Tuesdays are not regular trash days for many Pimlico and Mount Washington residents, they must make an extra mental note to remember to put the paper out.

Confused? So are we.

Kurt Kocher, whose job is to justify whatever the city Public Works Department does, says this is not a big deal. "You are still getting the same amount of recycling service," he argues.

He explains that the city collects only 350 tons of commingled blue-bag recyclables, such as plastic and glass. Because it's such a small amount, public works trucks don't have enough to do on blue-bag collection days.

That's why as of Monday, trucks will collect blue bags citywide on the same day. "It's a better use of the work force," Mr. Kocher said.

Maybe, but that's only half the point. The other is ease of use for people who want to recycle.

It's important to keep the recycling schedule as simple and predictable as possible, so people don't think it's an inconvenience. The more people have to think about collection days, the more likely they are to forget. That, in turn, aggravates the city's abysmal trash problem.

The more recyclables end up in regular trash, the sooner the city's Quarantine Road Landfill will run out of space, necessitating a new, expensive dump. That would blow more than the money saved with the new collection schedule.

Recycling offers a practical solution to a critical environmental problem. But it's a habit that is difficult to establish -- which is why the city should do nothing to make it more difficult.

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