Race to recycle

Our view : Ask the best - recycling requires effort, access and public support to work

December 04, 2008

Here's a good trivia question for your next holiday get-together (or at least when it's time to clean up all the empty bottles and cans): Which Maryland county recycles the highest percentage of its trash?

Surprisingly, it isn't affluent, Birkenstock-wearing Montgomery County but working-class Baltimore County that takes the prize. Last year, the county recycled about 1.2 million tons of its nearly 2 million tons of solid waste, or roughly 62 percent of all refuse.

Much of it comes from a single source. The Sparrows Point steel mill, now owned by Severstal, is the 800-pound gorilla of county recycling efforts thanks to the thousands of tons of slag the company recycles into such items as railroad ballast and roofing materials each year. But the county is also committed to residential recycling and can generally rely on residents to recycle about one-fourth of all the household trash that can be reused. This week, the County Council approved a 10-year plan that aims to push the recycling rate even higher.

One important way to meet that goal would be to offer single-stream recycling on a weekly basis. Right now, the county provides either bottle and can pick-up or paper collection on alternate weeks. With 47 private carriers covering a pastiche of routes across the sprawling county, it's sometimes difficult for customers to keep track of what needs to be left at the curb.

Another would be to better educate county residents on the value of recycling and not just to the environment. The county earned about $5 million last year from the sale of its aluminum, cardboard, newspapers and other reusable material. That covers just under 10 percent of the Bureau of Solid Waste's annual budget.

The benefits of recycling are too great for any jurisdiction to pass up. Voluntary recycling has worked well over the years, but it puts the impetus on the public to act in its own best interest. Even in Baltimore County, there's plenty of room for improvement.

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