Baltimore County single-stream recycling

Flor Riviera sorts recycling at Baltimore County's single stream recycling facility in Elkridge.The county switched from alternating collections of paper and bottles and cans to single stream recycling the week of Feb. 1, 2010. (Noah Scialom, Patuxent Publishing / January 26, 2012)

Paper in one bin, bottles in another. Remember those old days of recycling?

Many residents do, and with no regrets for their being relegated to the past with the introduction of single-stream recycling in Baltimore County two years ago, on Feb. 1, 2010.

"Nobody wants to sort," said Allison White, a Catonsville resident and environmental science teacher at Mount St. Joseph High School, in Baltimore, who created the Facebook group, "No More Sorting! Support Single Stream Recycling in Baltimore County" shortly before the county's switch.

Alane Kimes, of Perry Hall, who has long volunteered for county recycling initiatives and has been trained by the county to talk to the community about recycling, agreed.

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"It's like no hassle at all to do it," Kimes said of single-stream recycling. "I really have a hard time understanding why anyone wouldn't want to do it."

Two years into the program, county officials said they are hearing similar thoughts from residents all across the county.

The county may have gotten a later start on single-stream recycling than surrounding counties – Howard County began in 2006 and Carroll County began in 2007 – but it's certainly catching up now, officials said.

"It's just gotten better and better," said Charles Reighart, the county's recycling coordinator.

The single-stream program has brought new recyclers into the fold, inspired part-time recyclers to participate more consistently, and given ardent recyclers the option to recycle more materials, from aluminum foil to rigid plastics such as drinking cups and flower pots, Reighart said.

The program also is saving landfill space, cutting down on disposal costs and dramatically increasing the amount of recyclable materials the county is collecting, Reighart said.

The numbers are impressive.

In 2009, the last year before the county introduced single-stream recycling, the county collected 36,167 tons of recycling. In 2010, which allowed for single-stream recycling for 11 months of the year, the county collected 47,182 tons of recycling, a 30.5 percent increase over 2009. In 2011, the county collected 51,345 tons of recycling, another 8.8 percent increase over 2010 and a 42 percent increase over 2009.

Considering the county paysWaste Management Inc.$56.41 a ton for trash disposal, the 15,178 additional tons recycled in 2011 compared with 2009 saved the county more than $856,000 in disposal costs, Reighart said.

"Most people already accept and understand that recycling is good for the environment standpoint, and that's well and good, but a lot of people don't understand that recycling is good from a fiscal standpoint as well," Reighart said.

Because of the substantial costs of collecting and disposing of trash and recycling, recycling doesn't amount to a net gain for the county, but it "does help to offset the overall cost of a waste management program," Reighart said.

And the fiscal reality behind recycling is continuing to improve, he said.

Until this year, the county was simply handing over its recyclables to Waste Management, which sorts recyclables from various local jurisdictions at a facility in Elkridge, bundles them and ships them off to foreign ports as a commodity.

"We still got the avoided disposal cost, but we weren't getting revenue," Reighart said.

But as of the first of the year, Baltimore County has a revenue sharing agreement with Waste Management, Reighart said, and will be bringing in money from the materials county residents recycle.

What's more, the County Council authorized $13 million in financing in November to upgrade the county's existing recycling facility in Cockeysville to be able to handle single-stream recycling, with some estimates showing the county could make $200,000 per month by handling the process itself.