The city recycles its pickup plan

February 16, 2002|By Rob Kasper

REFUSEWISE, it has been an interesting month in Baltimore. Ever since the first of the month when the Department of Public Works changed the way it picks up recyclables-mainly stacks of newspapers and "blue bags" containing plastic and glass - street life in this town has taken on a fresh excitement.

A lot of criticism has been voiced about the new program, which calls for residents to put their recyclables in the front of houses, not in the alleys, and changes the pickup schedule. As a fan of alleys, I too railed against the change in a column several weeks ago.

But after watching the program in action for the past few weeks, I now can say a few positive things about it.

First of all, dogs love it. On "blue bag" recycling day when bags are placed on city sidewalks, city dogs are having a field day as they walk their appointed rounds. All those new aromas sitting on familiar ground give the dogs ample reason to stop and sniff the recyclable. They don't just sniff, of course. Dogs being dogs, they root around, and "mark" territory. As a colleague of mine said after watching her Jack Russell terriers, Jack and Zippy, familiarize themselves with some of the blue bags of Wyman Park, "I hope those guys picking up the recycling are wearing gloves."

Secondly, on windy recycling days, such as last Monday, Baltimore streets take on a new look as some of the blue bags, especially those holding only empty plastic bottles, go airborne or dance under parked cars. For instance, as I passed along a stretch of Lafayette Street near the Maryland Institute College of Art, the recycling-day scene reminded me of an Alexander Calder mobile. Flying trash bags substituted for Calder's twirling, brightly colored forms. This dramatic display of flying refuse would have less chance of happening, I told myself, if the blue bags had been kept in the alleys. Back in the alleys there was less room for the bags to move around and few parked cars to hide under.

Art, however, has its price. The next day I noticed some of the mobile, streetscape blue bags had eluded capture by the DPW crews and were on the loose, looking a lot like trash.

Thirdly, the change in the recycling program has given city dwellers a fresh incentive to become aware of the widths of their alleys and of their recycling trucks and to contact their neighborhood associations.

According to Department of Public Works spokesmen, the main reason for the switch in recycling procedures is to improve efficiency. In particular the DPW goal is to pick up all of the blue bags in the city in one day.

To get all the blue bags picked up in one day, the DPW says its recycling crews need to drive only the larger trucks in its fleet, ones that are 8 feet wide and hold 20 cubic yards of material. (The older trash trucks in the fleet are 7 1/2 feet wide and carry only 16 cubic yards of material.) The DPW says there are alleys in some sections of the city that the wider trucks can't fit through. So to keep the recycling trucks rolling on schedule, the decision was made to move all recycling pickups to the streets and out of the alleys. The DPW says it is aware that its new recycling pickup policies are not set in stone, and that it is willing to work with neighborhood associations.

One neighborhood, Tuscany- Canterbury, already has appealed, asking that recycling pickup remain in its alleys. John Marchelya, vice president of the Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood Association, said he sent an e-mail early in February to Mayor Martin O'Malley and various city officials detailing why moving collections from the alleys would not work in the neighborhood's narrow, congested streets. "We are in a tight squeeze up here," Marchelya told me yesterday in a brief telephone conversation. "I told them our streets were just as wide as our alleys, and I asked them to please reconsider."

Marchelya said that after the Department of Public Works sent a "scouting team" out to check the widths of the streets and alleys, the following day he received what he termed a "positive response."

Late yesterday, however, Bob Murrow, a spokeman for the DPW, said the collection procedure in Tuscany-Canterbury was "under review" but no final decision had been reached.

Finally, a fourth benefit of the new program is that it has reminded us of the drop-off spots, city facilities that accept recyclables. For those of us who don't want to place trash, even recyclables, in front of our homes, or who can't get in synch with the new pickup schedule, hauling our own may be the answer.

Those locations, according to the DPW, are 4410 Lewin Ave., 4325 York Road, 239 Calverton Road, 2840 Sisson St., 6101 Bowleys Lane and 701 Reedbird Ave. According to the DPW, these locations are open 7.a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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