Enthusiastic, empty-handed

Short supplies, long lines at rollout of new recycling bins

December 16, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Community groups and city leaders hailed Baltimore's streamlined recycling program as the key to increasing public participation.

And yesterday the public responded - en masse.

Frigid and grumpy, throngs of environmentally conscious Baltimoreans waited in long lines for hours to purchase bright-yellow recycling containers - and many heard the bad news that supplies had run out.

"They just don't have what they need to take care of everybody," said Robert Lewis, a resident of Overlea who waited more than two hours among several hundred would-be recyclers at Montebello Elementary School, where bins were sold. "And now that everyone's getting cold, people are going to start getting antsy. People are going to start getting nasty out here."

Yesterday's activities kicked off the city's single-stream recycling program, which abandons the old system of putting out bottles, cans and plastic one day, and paper and cardboard another. Under the new plan, which starts Jan. 8, residents can set out all their recyclables on one day.

Officials offered residents containers at a discount at four locations between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The 25-gallon bins sold for $6 - half their normal price - while 18-gallon bins sold at the regular price of $5.

At Montebello, the small containers had sold out by 11 a.m. Staff members running the sale told those in line that a new batch was on the way. They also offered residents the option of paying for the bins in advance to avoid waiting, in exchange for a receipt and a pledge to deliver the containers to their homes tomorrow. But some, like Lewis, were skeptical.

"You know they're not going to deliver nothing, not out in that snow we're supposed to get on Monday," said Lewis, who showed up at the school parking lot at 10 a.m. "If I don't get it today, I'm not getting it."

An hour later, there was no sign of new bins.

"They were nice enough to come out and tell us what the status was in the beginning, but now they are saying one thing and then it's really another," Lewis said. "They said there would be more in 10 minutes, then they said 20 minutes, and now the crowd is not happy."

City officials apologized for the long waits and admitted they had underestimated the response. About 10,000 containers were sold yesterday and many other people were put on waiting lists or given "rain checks," with the understanding that bins would be delivered to their homes.

Officials also stressed that there's no need to scramble for bins. Sanitation crews will pick up recyclables in a marked container or recyclable box.

Sterling Clifford, Mayor Sheila Dixon's spokesman, said the city's Board of Public Works based the size of its order of bins on current recycling rates. He called the response a sign of the program's success.

"Already the interest in single-stream recycling has greatly exceeded our expectation," Clifford said. "We certainly appreciate people's patience as we manage the tremendous response to the recycling program."

Under threat of sleet and snow, residents came by the hundreds, bundled in winter wear and waiting in lines that snaked around the Montebello Elementary School playground, nearly a half-mile long. With nowhere to park, many maneuvered their cars onto the school's lawn.

At Polytechnic Institute, another location selling bins, those waiting described traffic jams and near-chaos in the school's parking lot, with no one to direct drivers.

While tempers flared among some impatient recyclers, others laughed off the inconvenience and found a sense of camaraderie among their green neighbors.

Elspeth Wheeler of South Roland Park was delighted to see the outpouring of Baltimoreans from diverse backgrounds.

"It's unbelievable. People are waiting in that cold, cold air for 1 1/2 hours," she said. "It's one of the most exciting things that's happened in my life recently."

Wheeler said people did not seem angry over the long wait. She said high school students were offering massages for $20 and that volunteers were holding places in line for people who took a break for relief of tired muscles. Others sold cupcakes and hot coffee.

Others simply took their frustration out on the city - with a sense of humor, of course.

"The jokes started going up and down the lines pretty fast," said Caroline Hannaway, a Guilford resident who arrived at Poly at 11:30 a.m. By 1:40 p.m., she was 50 places from the front of the line when someone announced the bins were sold out. Residents were told a truck carrying a new supply could come in an hour, but she was too exasperated to wait.

"There was a lot of cynicism about Baltimore City, people telling stories about their struggle trying to get trees removed, other adventures where they have had things contested at the city," she said. "It was pretty amusing."

By midafternoon, about 10 officials and staff pitched in at each location to speed up the process, including Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank, who bought coffee and doughnuts for 300 people, Clifford said.

Today, officials said, a limited supply of 25-gallon bins will be for sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Northwestern High School, 6900 Park Heights Ave. Bins will be limited to one per resident. Residents can receive rain checks for up to five containers, with delivery expected within three weeks, Clifford said.

After this weekend, recycling bins can be bought from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays at the city's Department of Public Works yard at 111 Kane St.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jonathan D. Rockoff contributed to this article.

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