A twist on trash

Our view: Baltimore's proposed change in trash collection gives residents twice-a-week service but with a needed emphasis on the savings of recycling

March 25, 2009

Twice-a-week trash pickup is a public service Baltimore can no longer afford - not environmentally or financially. There's only so much landfill space to handle the city's refuse, and the advent of single-stream recycling offers a cheaper way to keep the planet clean.

Mayor Sheila Dixon has proposed reducing residential trash pick-up to once a week and devoting a second day of the week to collect recyclables as part of her budget plan for next year. With a strong public education campaign, the shift could make Baltimore cleaner and greener and save money - the city saves $33 for every ton of trash it doesn't send to the refuse facility.

But the plan's success will depend on increasing the amount of households that recycle and educating residents in the simple dos and don'ts - most probably don't realize just how much of their trash can be recycled. City officials have their work cut out for them: In 2008, the city collected 194,121 tons of trash, compared with 15,057 tons of recycled materials. The recycling tonnage was up 30 percent over the year before, an increase attributed to the shift toward single stream.

Across Baltimore, some neighborhoods recycle more of their trash than others. And there are many city residents who simply don't put their trash in a secure can with a lid, which city officials say is their biggest problem. But that shouldn't deter the Dixon administration from pushing ahead with its proposal, which must be approved by the City Council before it can begin July 1.

Public works officials say an advantage of the "1+1" plan is that residents can recycle an unlimited amount of material. Last year, before the recession hit and the value of recycling materials bottomed out, the city collected $386,000 as its share of the profits of recycled goods.

As part of the plan, city public works officials are revamping trash routes and work schedules to achieve a more equitable system, the first comprehensive review of trash collection in 30 years. Alleys and vacant lots will be included on every route, which should help curtail illegal and unsightly dumping, and the number of sanitation code inspectors will increase from 10 to 30.

Public works chief David E. Scott and his staff deserve credit for drafting a plan that, on its face, responds to the needs of the city and taxpayers while providing enhancements to ensure a smooth transition and a cleaner place to live.

Baltimore residents shouldn't view this as a cutback in service. A truck will come down their street twice each week, picking up trash one day and recyclables another. That's a two-fer by our count.

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