Baltimore County gets greener

Our view: Single-stream recycling will keep tons of trash out of the landfill

December 14, 2009

When it comes to recycling, Baltimore County is about to go from being a laggard in the region to being a leader. Starting Feb. 1, the county will allow residents to put out all kinds of recyclables - paper, plastic, metal and glass - in one bin. It will accept a much broader range of materials than it did before, and it will begin extending pickup to multifamily residences that were not previously served by recycling. It's a big improvement, and it's about time.

Years ago, Baltimore County was a pioneer in the area in its decision to cut trash pickup to once a week and increase recycling to once a week - a shift not accomplished in the city until just this year. And although that approach was fairly successful, it had its limits. Forget to put out your recycling one week, and next thing you know, you're sitting on a month's worth of newspapers. The county's sorting facility also hemmed the program in. Because there was only enough space to sort a few kinds of recyclables, the little triangle symbol on containers meant nothing in Baltimore County. Only a few kinds of plastic were accepted, and there were limits on metal and paper, too. You could put perfectly recyclable materials in your bin only to have them separated at the sorting facility and sent to the landfill.

Not any more. The sorting operation is moving to a larger facility, and as of Feb. 1, the county will accept just about anything. The newly recyclable items in the county include: margarine and yogurt tubs; rigid plastic such as buckets and flower pots; empty aerosol cans; aluminum foil and pie plates; and wax-coated paper like milk and juice cartons. That puts it on par with or better than any other jurisdiction in the Baltimore area.

Even better, the county is working to expand its program to cover multifamily residences as well. Previously, most of them had not participated in the program - for an apartment complex, each extra Dumpster you provide for recycling means less parking for residents. But allowing recyclables to commingle means you need fewer containers to collect them. About 234,000 single-family homes and townhouses are now covered by the recycling program, but only about 6,000 multifamily homes and condos are. Over the coming months, the county will begin adding the 63,000 units that aren't. That's something most other area jurisdictions can't boast.

The environmental benefits of encouraging more people to recycle are obvious, but the move toward single-stream will be good for the county's bottom line, too. It costs money to send trash to the landfill - about $37 a ton - so even if the county only breaks even on selling its recyclables, it's money ahead.

How much difference will this make? When Baltimore moved to a once-a-week trash collection, once-a-week single-stream recycling schedule, city residents increased their recycling by 53 percent in just the first six weeks. Here's hoping county residents do the same.

Readers respond
This is fantastic! Recycling is going to be so much easier for my family now! As one of those who forgets (quite frequently) to put out the recycling and then has it pile up, I'm grateful that the county will be doing this and I won't need to make a trek to the dump to drop off the recycling when it gets to be too much.

Mar

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