Simpler recycling schedule in store

Starting Jan. 8 in city, everything goes to the curb on same day

November 08, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore is planning a major overhaul of its recycling program that aims to boost participation by making it easier for residents to dispose of their cans, paper and plastic, city officials said yesterday.

Starting in January, the city will begin collecting all recyclable material - bottles, cans, paper and cardboard - in a single container, eliminating the complicated schedule in which residents place bottles and cans at the curb on one day, and paper and cardboard on another.

Baltimore's new system - known as single-stream recycling - comes as local governments across the country are seeking to become more green and as residents increasingly complain that the current system is too confusing.

City officials predicted that the single-stream process - in place in Washington, D.C., and several Maryland counties - could increase recycling in the city by more than 16 percent, or 2,000 tons annually.

"It makes life a lot easier," said Mayor Sheila Dixon, whose administration has focused on making the city cleaner. "If we can lead by example and make life easier for people, then it may help families and individuals to consider recycling more."

Baltimore collects about 12,000 tons of recyclable material a year under a complex schedule that requires residents to put out cans, bottles and certain plastics on the second and fourth Monday of the month and magazines, and newsprint and cardboard on another day, which varies by regions.

Under the new system, residents would dispose of all recyclables on the same day - the day they now put out paper. In Northeast Baltimore, for example, that would be the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. In West and South Baltimore, the material will be collected on the second and fourth Tuesdays.

Once the program begins on Jan. 8, the city will no longer collect recyclables on Mondays. Government holidays frequently fall on Mondays and, when they do, it disrupts collection schedules.

Valentina Ukwuoma, head of the solid waste bureau of the Department of Public Works, said residents will also be allowed to recycle more types of plastic. That extra recycling, she said, means a lot less waste will find its way to the landfill.

"It makes more sense for our residents," Ukwuoma said. "The city is doing this for operational efficiency and the convenience of its residents."

Other Maryland counties, including Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard, use single-stream recycling. Howard County officials told The Sun in July that since they adopted the system last year, they have seen an almost 7 percent increase in tons collected and a 15 percent increase in participation.

In Baltimore County, residents must separate recyclables, but an official said yesterday that the county is considering a single-stream process along with other measures. Harford County also collects paper on different weeks than bottles and cans.

Critics of single-stream recycling say it makes recyclable material less pure and therefore less reusable. Glass, for example, can break and embed itself in newspaper. Some say the process makes waste out of otherwise reusable material.

But many neighborhood groups in the city have long sought to do away with the current collection process. Several officials outside of the administration said they are optimistic about the idea and eager to hear specifics.

"Perfect," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. "It makes it simple to remember and to consolidate and to recycle, and so it helps with the entire effort."

Several city leaders said they are not actively considering a change to the city's twice-a-week trash collection, which is unusually frequent for a city of Baltimore's size.

Dixon's administration intends to officially announce the new recycling process next month, and public works officials said a series of notices will be mailed to residents in coming weeks. Two contracts for the system were approved by the Board of Estimates yesterday, the first public sign that the administration was moving forward with the change.

The five-member board approved a contract with Elkridge-based Waste Management Inc., which opened a new plant last year to sort the material. City crews will still be responsible for collection.

Taxpayers will not pay Waste Management to sort the recyclables, officials said. Instead, the private company will recover its costs by selling the sorted material. Depending on the market prices for that material, the city could receive some portion of the proceeds.

Other cities have required residents to purchase custom recycling containers, but city officials said that will not be the case here - at least initially. However, the city will make available 10,000 bins for households that choose to use them. An 18-gallon bin will cost $5 and a 25-gallon bin will cost $12, those officials said.

The city will sell the containers at four school parking lots - Patterson High, Edmondson High, Poly-Western and Montebello Elementary School - on Dec. 15. The larger bin will be sold for $6 that day.

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