Recycling redux

Howard County plans to see whether change in bins' size, mobility can increase participation

May 07, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Would giving residents bright blue wheeled bins encourage them to recycle more?

Montgomery County credits the use of the devices with an upturn in recycling of paper there. Now, Howard County is considering their use, the first Baltimore-area government to do so.

If Howard's planned pilot program is successful, it could show how to boost collections at a time when recycling growth has slowed nationwide.

Though the amount of trash that is recycled nationally grew from 16 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 2000, it has risen to just 32 percent since then, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The Environmental Protection Agency's goal is 38 percent by next year.

The best way to increase collections, the report concluded, is by making it easier and more convenient to recycle - something the National Recycling Coalition said on its Web site can be done by using recycling carts. One advantage of Howard's plan: Residents will be able to mix paper, glass, plastic and other items in the carts, which officials hope will help encourage people to use them.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's proposed budget includes $280,000 to distribute the wheeled trash-can-style containers with lids to about 5,000 county residents in the Elkridge area - one of Howard's 15 trash collection routes. Individual homes would get 65-gallon carts and townhouses 35-gallon ones. If residents don't want them, they would be retrieved. Apartments, which are served by commercial trash haulers, would not be included in the program.

"I think we can encourage more recycling. It's part of our responsibility. The public wants to do it," Ulman said. "I've heard enough from constituents who say, `Gee, it would be great if it had wheels.'"

Unlike some jurisdictions, Howard collects all recycling materials together in a single-stream system, rather than making residents separate paper from glass and other items.

"We have 150,000 carts out there," said Joe O'Donnell, Montgomery County's program manager for solid waste. "It worked great," he said, boosting paper collections by an average of about two pounds per house a week. Montgomery collects only paper in the bins.

Washington, which uses the single-stream system, saw a 12 percent increase in recycling collections after residents there began using 32-gallon wheeled bins in 2005, said Linda Grant, a city spokeswoman.

Anne Arundel also has single-stream recycling, said Linda Currier, solid waste operations administrator, but like Prince George's County, it uses open yellow recycling bins. Prince George's plans to move to single-stream collections by October, after which it will consider converting to the wheeled bins, said Carol Bracaglia, the recycling coordinator.

If Howard's test program works, it could be expanded to the entire county at a cost of about $4 million, Ulman said.

Ulman, 33, who was elected in November, has pushed green initiatives such as the recycling pilot program to the top of his administration's agenda.

Ulman screened Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, for his entire administration and has plans to buy hybrid vehicles, experiment with solar energy, and require environmentally friendly buildings.

Howard moved to the single-stream system last year, and officials believe that more people would take advantage of it if they had the wheeled recycling containers.

"It makes it easier for people," said Evelyn Tomlin, chief of the county's Bureau of Environmental Services. "They can wheel them, and there's no blowing trash."

Richard Keller, recycling manager for the Maryland Environmental Service, said there's a trend nationally to mix all material for recycling together - a trend that makes wheeled, larger bins more attractive.

"The idea is that the more space people have, the more incentive people have to put stuff out at the curb."

Howard uses the same trucks for trash and recyclable materials, saving on costs. The trucks on the pilot program's route would be equipped with mechanical lifting devices to dump the new containers.

During 2006, Howard's recycling system took in 58,092 tons, with 24,150 of that from curbside collections, Tomlin said. The rest - things like branches, construction debris, tires, wood, electronics and yard waste - were brought by residents to the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill. The amount collected last year represented roughly a 6 percent increase over 2005. Commercial firms, which collect trash from businesses and apartments, recycled 121,168 tons in the county, said Alan Wilcom, chief of the county's recycling division.

Howard County's recycling goes to a plant off U.S. 1 in Elkridge run by Recycle America, a unit of Waste Management Inc. The plant, which opened in August 2006, also handles recycling collections from a dozen other jurisdictions in Maryland Virginia and Washington.

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